Comic performances and arresting visuals made for enticing balletic storytelling in Septime Webre’s “Alice (in Wonderland).” The Kansas City Ballet opened its season Friday at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with this interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s cherished nonsensical tale.
The work blended classical elements with outrageous moves, humorous references and acrobatics. It challenged the company with its scale and its technical, dramatic and theatrical demands.
The cast was large, requiring concise direction. It included student dancers in numerous appealing roles as fuzzy flamingos, somersaulting hedgehogs or cartwheeling playing cards. The staging, however, sometimes devolved into a crowded chaos.
Laura Hunt sweetly danced the title role with joy, curiosity and affable bewilderment, embracing comedic opportunities. She rarely left the stage, deftly executing a range of stylistic demands with a variety of partners, notably with Charles Martin’s White Rabbit, who exhibited hilarious nervous energy, or Liang Fu’s Cheshire Cat, flirty and slinky.
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Alice’s counterpart was the Queen of Hearts, danced in a thrilling performance by Angelina Sansone. Brass chords and strident strings accentuated her angular, aggressive movement as she raged onstage.
Webre created inspired movement for the larger group: flamingos hopped en pointe with beaklike gestures, the caterpillar (Whitney Huell) twisted with slinky flexibility in a four-man carry, and there was a touch of disco to the tea party scene.
The visual elements of the show were stunning. James Kronzer designed with clean, simple sophistication in exquisite backdrops of outsized mushrooms and an overwhelming rose, emphasized by Clifton Taylor’s lighting. Puppetry, designed by Eric Van Wyk, allowed for surreal effects, such as Alice’s initial tumble down the rabbit hole and the livid-red Jabberwock.
Liz Vandal’s costuming was as creative as the original tale. The outfits and headdresses were extensions of each character: soft and flouncy for Alice, spiky and glittering for the Queen, even a twitchy set of ears for the White Rabbit. The bird and card costumes were especially inventive.
Matthew Pierce’s original score matched the moods and characters with specific themes, accessible and energetic with jazz influences and cute special effects, such as snapped rhythms, screeching strings and growling brass. Ramona Pansegrau conducted the Kansas City Symphony.
There were disheartening moments, though. Some sections seemed overlong and under-rehearsed, with unsynchronized music and dance, sloppy lifts and missed cues. The flying effects required long transitions to harness the dancers, diluting the magic.
Still, the issues were outweighed by the work’s fantastical style and good humor for a successful production.