This story features “Alice in Wonderland,” a story ballet presented by Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy. Learn more about this performance and get tix on the event page here.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. It’s in good company with “Hey Diddle Diddle” and Mother Goose. Little did Lewis Carroll know that his 1865 novel would have legs in 2018–legs with pointe shoes and tights.
The Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy (MBT) brings this classic fantasy tale to the stage of Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center in Rockville on March 17 and 18. Can the Queen of Hearts, a White Rabbit and a Mat Hatter fondu, pirouette and plié? “Come see,” says MBT Artistic Director Elizabeth Odell Catlett who submits that while Alice in Wonderland is “not your typical classical ballet, it is such a fun story!”
This full-length ballet features a “large number of props, sets, and scene changes to help make the story come to life,” Catlett said. She added that she was drawn to the story by its “many fun characters…and many scenes that have to be acted out with props and sets.”
MBT’s Executive Director Paula Ross said the dance company has gone partially through this looking glass before. “MBT performed a piece of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as part of 2010’s spring production,” she said. “This year’s production is a brand new, full-length production, however, with new costumes, choreography, and sets.”
The performers have a range of ages and abilities. “Student dancers range from 8- to 18-years-old; we also have a couple of professional dancers,” said Ross. “Auditions were held before winter break. But as part of MBT’s commitment to providing performing opportunities, all students who auditioned were cast in a role.”
Catlett had first-hand experience in the young dancer’s life. In her native Louisville, Kentucky, she started ballet at age 7 and trained in classical ballet, pointe, modern and jazz. “I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue dance pedagogy, so I attended Radford University where I [earned] a B.S. in dance education,” she said.
Pardiss Kaviani, a 16-year-old dancer who plays the Queen of Hearts and March Hare, said the production poses a few unique challenges. “The Queen of Hearts has to be funny, then mean, then snobby,” said the Thomas S. Wootton High School student, and observed that remembering the choreography while acting is no easy feat.
Jennifer Bivin, 16, who shares the Queen of Hearts role in alternating performances, described the show as an exercise in stamina. “We’re on stage a lot. There is very little break between variations,” the Damascus High School student said.
Annebeth Heller, a 16-year-old Holton Arms student, plays the Mad Hatter. “Being good friends in real life with the people you’re dancing with and knowing that your characters are supposed to be friends in the book makes the acting easier,” she said.
The role of White Rabbit is danced by Winston Churchill High School student Julia Marelli, also 16. Her familiarity with the Alice in Wonderland story helped her prepare for the role. “Knowing from the start how my character interacts with the other characters was very helpful,” she said.
Catlett explained how she selected “Alice” for the Spring Ballet, and how she goes about choosing all MBT’s productions. “We try to think of a new story that can be portrayed through dance, that audiences of all ages will enjoy and will highlight MBT’s students in a professional setting. It helps if there is already a classical soundtrack, but that’s not always the case,” she said.
To prepare for staging the production, Catlett said she “read parts of the book and researched films to see different interpretations of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’” Then she selected music and “did my best to choose the portions of the story that would resonate most with the audience and also work seamlessly with the music.”
By the sound of it, the show requires just as much choreography backstage. “The stage crew will be prepping for the next set to be pushed out on stage,” Catlett said. “The dancers who aren’t on stage may be doing a quick change to get into another costume, or they may be getting ready to find a prop that they have to dance with. We will have costume and makeup volunteers helping backstage and on-hand, ready to sew quick fixes or get our younger dancers’ costumes and makeup on.”
Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy will present “Alice in Wonderland” at noon and 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, and Sunday, March 18, at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center, 51 Mannakee St., Rockville. For tickets–$23, $19 for children, students and seniors in advance, and $26 for everyone at the door–and information, visit mbtdance.org or call 301-762-1757. Learn more about this performance here.