Saturday, May 14, 2016

Alice in Balletland

NBT plays its cards right
by Christopher Key

I’ve never figured out why ballet isn’t more popular than football.  Ballet is all about beauty and grace, the dancers are better athletes and they’re damn sure better behaved off the field.  Case in point: Northwest Ballet Theater’s Alice in Wonderland.  Lewis Carroll’s classic tale has given NBT Artistic Director John Bishop lots of room to exercise his choreographic talents and he has, if you’ll excuse the sports metaphor, kicked it through the uprights.

Alice has entranced generations of children just on the strength of the story alone.  When Bishop starts kicking out the jams with his evocative choreography, a whole new level of enchantment is achieved.  He’s got a championship team behind him.

Photo credit - John Fischer

One of the amazing things about NBT’s Alice is that a middle-school student dances the lead role.  You’d never guess Julia Schwartz's age by her stage presence.  She’s cool, confident and mature as a performer far beyond her years.  That’s part of what happens when you start dancing at age four.

Dancers are occasionally described as having “elegant lines” and Schwartz has that in spades.  Hearts, clubs and diamonds, as well.  That’s not something you can teach.  It’s all about a long-limbed, slender body.  What you can teach is how to take advantage of that physical grace and Schwartz has learned her lessons well.  Brilliant!

She gets solid support from NBT veterans like Hailey Forsberg, who delivers the best White Rabbit since Jefferson Airplane.   The 20-year-old Forsberg is as adorable as all those little girls Bishop gets onstage and not much bigger.

And speaking of adorable, NBT fixture Angus McLane doubles as a hookah-puffing caterpillar and the least intimidating executioner ever.

Photo credit - John Fischer

The Cheshire Cat is famous for a disappearing act that leaves only a crazed smile behind.  Bellingham High School senior Sophia Kongshaug has a delightful smile, but it’s those Bette Davis Eyes that will stick in your memory.

Kongshaug’s classmate Chloe Johnston is another long-time NBT favorite and gets to show a whole new set of acting chops as the Queen of Hearts.  She’s a regal as a raised eyebrow and can order a decapitation without a second thought.

Ian Aegerter doesn’t get much stage time as the Knave of Hearts, but when he finally gets to strut his stuff, he wows the audience with his seemingly effortless leaps.  He’s seriously upstaged by another male dancer, however.

Unlike most small boys shanghaied into ballet, Lev Cornwall looks like he’d rather be dancing than playing football.  Or even video games.  This young man has the stage presence, the acting chops and the obvious joy in performing that mark him as a future star.

NBT Board President Dan Jordan invested in some slick back-projection toys that Lighting Designer Dave Wright has some serious fun with.  Alice has some notably psychedelic overtones and just wait until you see what happens to the rabbit hole and a deck of cards when Wright gets through playing.

Alice in Wonderland has more sheer audience appeal than anything NBT has done since I’ve been writing about them and that’s saying a lot.  Even the most die-hard Seahawks fan can appreciate this one.  There was only tonight’s performance at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon, but the ballet performs next Saturday and Sunday at Mount Baker Theatre.  Tickets are available at the MBT box office (360) 734-6080 or online at the website.

You’ll get a kick out of it!

# # #

1 comment: