Children and parents alike are familiar with Alice in Wonderland, as it’s been made and remade again in various performing arts within the past century. So if someone wants to reinterpret the classic tale once more, a novel perspective is essential, especially if the production has no words.
Enter the creative mind of Michael Lang, artistic director and choreographer at the Toledo Ballet. The ten-year Broadway veteran is adding Alice in Wonderland to his lengthy list of original productions this spring. Despite lacking a purely ballet background, Lang is using his eclectic experience to his advantage and incorporating jazz, musical theatre, ballet, and contemporary dance styles in this modern production about losing childhood and the trials of growing up.
Freedom in Expression
Though he claims it’s the most challenging show he’s done, Lang thinks he’s a good fit, and said Alice writer Lewis Carroll is “up my wacky-brained alley.” The show will use shadow play and clever costume and set design to recreate the elements of Wonderland, such as the Rabbit Hole and Mad Tea Party. While portraying symbolism and fantastical imagery on the stage may be difficult, Lang relishes not being limited by reality. “It doesn’t have to make sense, and it’s actually better if it doesn’t. It gives you a lot of freedom,” he said.
For a piece that’s been done in lots of ways, Lang said the most unique thing to do is stick to the book, a practice that deviates from patterns set in movie adaptations. “I want people to feel like they’ve literally opened up the book and just watched the chapters dance from page to page,” he said. Going chapter by chapter, the scenes are set to music from the Romantic era, when the story was written.
Though he mostly remained true to the storyline, Lang admits to playing around with some scenes a bit to show off his dancers, many of whom are auditioning for professional companies. Two ballerinas will alternate playing the roles of Alice and the White Rabbit, Semira Warrick and McKenzie Beaverson, both students of the Toledo Ballet. Other characters are being played by talented volunteers with a passion for the art of dance. Lang is excited that after his eight years at the Ballet, it’s moving locations this month to double its space and offer more to the students, who he says are the biggest reward of his job.
Keeping the kids in mind, Lang collaborates with some of his advanced performers in a weekly Dance Lab to get their input on the productions he carefully creates. He’s aware that there’s a fine line between keeping a show artistic and getting cheesy, and while Alice lends itself to what he calls “musical theater comedy,” he uses pratfalls and Three Stooges-type humor (though beloved by children) sparingly. His main priority is storytelling, often choreographing scenes first, and adding music later, to focus on the narrative.
Lang believes that the story of Alice in Wonderland appeals to all: kids love its playfulness ,while adults can let their inner-child re-ignite. For those who weren’t fans of the original novel, he hopes seeing the ballet will give the audience an appreciation for the book. “I think seeing it come to life in front of your eyes will be a different experience,” Lang said. “It’s another way for people to connect with stuff, and I like that idea.” Prepare for a little bit of whimsy and a lot of imagination.
7:30pm, Saturday, March 28 & 2pm Sunday, March 29. Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St. Tickets at valentinetheatre.com or the box office, 419-242-2787.