Sprightly hedgehogs, shimmering jellyfish, dancing sausages. These are only a few of the unexpected treats awaiting us in Alice im Wunderland, a children’s ballet at Leipzig’s Musikalische Komödie (MuKo), based on the Lewis Carroll classic. From the moment Alice’s family and friends sing Happy Birthday hilariously off-key, we are catapulted into a fantastical world created by Mirko Mahr’s dynamic choreography, Tobias Engeli’s felicitous musical direction, and Alexander Mudlagk’s enchanting set design and vivid costumes.
Alice’s adventures have captivated the young and young at heart alike since their creation in the 19th century. This spectacle is no different: Three-fourths in, glancing around the theater, I noticed that an elderly couple sitting in front of me, as well as three little girls sitting behind me, were plainly transfixed. I found this to be a testament to the obvious artistry infused into every facet of this production.
Alice is danced by Patricia Klages, who carries the ballet easily, with fluid grace and expressiveness. There is lively chemistry between her and the White Rabbit, from the moment he appears on stage.
He is played by a suitably manic and lithe Tom Bergmann. I found it completely believable that she would leap down her giant birthday cake after him.
From that moment on, Alice begins her journey of self-actualization and growth.
The journey from childhood to adolescence can be scary. A child enters a new stage of life, full of challenges of a different kind, daunting yet heady.
With every generation, the transition from childhood to adulthood seems that much more brief.
The loss of innocence approaches far more quickly in this day and age than before, leading children to feel powerless in the face of issues overwhelming even to the grown-ups around them. Indeed, this weekend, American kids took their future into their own hands, marching against gun violence and the legislators who profit from doing nothing.
Part of the process of growing up is realizing that one can take control of one’s destiny. And that is the path that Alice steps upon as she traverses through Wonderland.
Lewis Carroll (born Charles L. Dodgson) conceived Wonderland in Oxford, England, in 1862. While on a boat trip with the family of the dean of the college where he was a lecturer, he made up the story to entertain them. He based the character of Alice on the family’s youngest daughter, Alice Liddell.
Alice loved the story so much, she requested that Dodson write it down. The resulting book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, took two and a half years to complete.
The Englishman finally published it in 1865, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. An instant hit, it has remained perpetually in print all over the world.
No doubt the work’s immense popularity is due to Alice’s mental odyssey in it towards adolescence – a timeless and universal theme. In addition, during her sojourns in Wonderland, she is met by a dizzying plethora of memorable characters, from the White Rabbit and the March Hare to Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat to the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. In this production, we meet all of the above in brilliant vibrancy.
In MuKo’s Wunderland, Alice interacts with each character to the sounds of Cole Porter, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Bizet, among others – played with aplomb by the orchestra.
We see her gaining confidence bit by bit, along with a growing sense of her abilities to affect the environment around her.
Notable is the original song “Alice, Alice, Oh Alice,” with music by Tobias Engeli and lyrics by Nele Winter. The songs in the musical are in German as well as in an original fictional language spoken by the denizens of Wonderland. It’s a brilliant touch that lends an even more otherworldly quality to the ballet.
Further highlights include the Mad Hatter’s party, in which the cast members dance to several decades of music both on and off the banquet table; a dance of newly transformed butterflies; and the antics of the Red Queen, played by the hugely entertaining Nicola Miritello.
“Good theater is teamwork,” says Alexander Mudlagk. In its exuberant execution, the team behind MuKo’s Alice im Wunderland has given us an imaginary world to explore for all ages, if only for one evening.
“Trink mich!” and follow the White Rabbit to the theater. Sit back and enjoy the story of a girl who meets new friends, defeats evil, and finds in herself a courageous and independent young woman.
By Natasha Carrasco Stillman
Teacher, thinker, voyager, dreamer, feminist, author, Renaissance woman, Natasha Carrasco Stillman hails from New Zealand and the United States. Although her academic field is International Relations, Natasha is an avid musician, having received her musical instruction in piano, violin and percussion at the Cleveland Institute of Music, as well as in bass guitar at The University of Otago in New Zealand. She spent several years in the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra under Jahja Ling, where she had the great honor to be directed by Kurt Masur. As a child, she also took ballet at the Cleveland Institute of Dance under Alex Martin. Natasha is interested in everything, works hard and plays hard.
Alice im Wunderland
Fri, 30 March – 3:00 pm
Sat, 14 April – 7:00 pm
Sun, 15 April – 3:00 pm
Tue, 17 April – 11:00 am
Cover shot: Alice im Wunderland Premiere, 23.03.2018 // Alice, played by Patricia Klages, plus cast ensemble. (Photo: Ida Zenna)