After journeying to Neverland a year ago with a production of “Peter Pan,” the Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company will travel into a rabbit hole this weekend.
The YUBC’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” opens this Friday at the Co-Op Arts and Humanities High School on College Street. Following a score composed by Tchaikovsky and arranged into a ballet by Carl Davis, the production is based on the original story written by Lewis Carroll. Director and Producer Nicholas Smith ’16 said unlike most ballet companies, which bring in outside choreographers, the YUBC’s performance features completely original choreography by members of the company.
“A lot of productions of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ stick to a more balletic interpretation and it’s just purely dance, more like a suite instead of a story,” Smith said. “We really tried to take the book, theme and story bits and incorporate them in a way so that we can actually portray a story while heavily incorporating ballet.”
Ensemble members interviewed said some of the largest challenges posed by “Alice in Wonderland” are the surreal transformations made by characters and settings. Winter noted that the cast constructed three differently sized doors to illustrate the scene where Alice shrinks and grows. Ellie Dupler ’16, who plays the Cheshire Cat, said the group is considering turning spotlights on and off to depict the appearance and disappearance of her character.
Acted out completely through dance and gestures, the performance will not feature any dialogue between the performers. Smith said that while the company tried to adhere as closely as possible to the original storyline, the members needed to make a number of edits because certain scenes in the novel are only meaningful in the presence of dialogue.
Theresa Oei ’15, who choreographed the production, said she believes the story is well suited for a ballet company because it contains a wide variety of characters. Unlike other productions such as “Cinderella,” which features only two main characters, she noted, “Alice in Wonderland” is able to feature a large cast while ensuring that each performer plays an important role in the show.
“We built the ballet from scratch, writing the plot, creating the characters, planning scene elements, and choreographing every bit of it,” said Lea Winter ’15, who plays Alice. “The unique challenge in adapting a piece of literature to a ballet is how communicate the imagery and symbolism that the author left between the lines.”
Unlike most adaptations of Carroll’s novel, YUBC’s production features two Queens instead of one — the Queen of Hearts and the Queen of Diamonds. Andrina Tran GRD ’18, another choreographer for the show, said the company chose to have two queens to introduce an additional dimension to the story that is not found in previous productions. She highlighted the humorous relationship between the two queens, adding that the Queen of Hearts is depicted as more dominant.
Oei said the whimsical nature of the show distinguishes it from the bulk of art that the Yale community produces, which tend to touch on more serious themes. Smith described the play as being more relevant to themes such as the innocence of childhood and the mysteries of life.
The absence of a dance department at Yale has created financial challenges for the company throughout the production process. Small in size, the YUBC has to make do without a significant budget and faculty oversight. Smith said group members made frequent trips to Home Depot, IKEA and the Center for Engineering, Innovation and Design while constructing the set themselves. The entire budget was roughly $2,000, he said, with funding from the Yale Undergraduate Organizations Committee, Creative Performing Arts Award and the Arts Discretionary Fund.
Performances of “Alice in Wonderland” will run through Saturday night.