Alice in Wonderland may have been written almost 150 years ago, but it still offers a fresh source of artistic inspiration. The timeless novel has been interpreted through movies, operas, sculptures and comic books.
The Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater will be offering their version of Alice’s fantastic story in Alice Down the Rabbit Hole. When company founder and artistic director Bernard Gaddis was creating his first full-length piece, he found himself thinking back to his childhood. “I definitely used to read this story as a kid,” he says. “I fell in love with the book.”
Alice in Wonderland has been retold as both children’s light entertainment and a darker, psychological adult tale. The LVCDT rendition lies somewhere in between: Kids will enjoy it, but adults won’t be bored. “It’s a contemporary spin on Alice—it is definitely for families but not so cutesy. She’s not a little girl of 7, she’s a 15-, 16-year-old girl,” Gaddis explains, “It’s not sweet in the sense of bouncy and bubbly.”
He also notes that visuals and sound will add more sophistication than sugar and spice. “The costumes [will have] a sleek, abstract sort of look as opposed to fussy and comical and cartoonish.” Alice’s dress is a bit more ’50s prom than Victorian pinafore, while the Red Queen wears avant-garde high fashion. The ballet’s original score was composed by Martin St-Pierre of Cirque du Soleil. “To collaborate with Martin is truly amazing,” says Gaddis, who dances in Cirque’s Mystère show. He describes the score as “more in the line of classical, but it has a contemporary spin on it.”
The LVCDT version of Alice has also put a few twists in the original plot that add complexity while making the characters more accessible. “It’s reality-based,” Gaddis says, explaining that the Wonderland figures will be introduced in a prologue as people in Alice’s life whose characteristics will be exaggerated in her fantasy world. “There’s a direct link between the reality and the Wonderland part,” Gaddis continues. “The characters that are in the beginning are human—there’s a mother and a grandmother. The grandmother is stern, disciplining, scary, and in Wonderland she’s basically the Red Queen. The mother is more gentle and she is the White Queen. She has two brothers that are rambunctious, and they’re like Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The Mad Hatter takes on her father’s characteristics.”
Gaddis has choreographed more than 30 dance pieces, but interpreting the many personalities in Alice Down the Rabbit Hole posed new challenges. “The hardest [one] was the Red Queen. She’s the villain, but I want people to like the villain,” he says, “I want them to one minute not like her and the next feel for her. I want them to have a range of emotions toward the Red Queen.”
Beyond Alice Down the Rabbit Hole, the LVCDT has big plans. “We’re going to be doing a contemporary collection for spring of 2015,” Gaddis says. “For fall of 2015 we’re actually going to be bringing in a ballet by Alvin Ailey, Night Creatures. The music is by Duke Ellington, so we’ll have a full jazz orchestra for the first time.”
The company also has plans to establish a permanent home. “We will be embarking on a conservatory come next year. It will house the company but we will have classes,” Gaddis says. “The goal is to bring the community together. We want to be able to offer something where people can go Downtown on date night … Dress up and have an amazing night out, see a beautiful performance and have a beautiful dinner.”
It’s all part of the LVCDT’s efforts to continue bringing contemporary dance to a wider audience. Says Gaddis: “Some of our biggest supporters are men because the wives will drag them against their will and all of a sudden they’re like ‘It’s so cool, it’s not like ballet at all, the guys are athletic and so are the women, and there’s so much happening onstage.’”
Alice Down the Rabbit Hole
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at The Smith Center, $24-$79, LVContemporaryDanceTheater.org.