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Alice dances into a madcap wonderland with Nat'l Ballet of Canada

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Entertainment,Music,Theater,Emily Cary

The Mad Tapper, a humongous Cheshire Cat and a caterpillar sporting 16 blue bejeweled point shoes are among the enchanting characters Alice encounters when she ventures through the looking glass in the National Ballet of Canada's production of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." This is the East Coast premiere of the ballet, a co-production with London's Royal Ballet in 2011.

A smashing hit on both sides of the Atlantic, it was created by British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon together with composer Joby Talbot.

Robert Stephen, the First Soloist of the company, cements the concept of derangement as he dances the zany role of the Mad Hatter turned Mad Tapper.

"The music by Talbot is one of my favorite scores," he said. "It's very melodic and has the qualities of all the Wonderland scenes. This role is very different from any other I've performed during my career in a ballet context, and I love bringing my tap skills up to the challenge. In the prologue, I make a brief appearance not wearing taps, but after that I'm wearing a mic pack at the waist with wires running down my legs."

Onstage
'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'
» Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F Street NW
» When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Jan. 22. to 26; 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Jan. 26 to 27
» Info: $45 to $150; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

The prologue introduces the characters in a Victorian atmosphere that evolves into a contemporary setting merging technology and imagination. Stephen dances on the Mad Tapper stage built in London for the debut and transported to Canada for the North American premiere. The elaborate Duchess' cottage holds a machine that grinds pigs into sausages.

Talbot's music emphasizes the action. It directs the eye to Alice, accompanies the White Rabbit when he wiggles his tail and echoes the Queen of Hearts as she cries, "Off with her head."

The gorgeous costumes designed by Bob Crowley accent each character's personality. Alice's are mauve, a favorite color during the Victorian period, while her mother, who becomes the Queen of Hearts, is in bright red. Jack, the Knave of Hearts and Alice's dancing partner, is dressed in traditional red and white. The White Rabbit is outfitted from ear to paw in white velvet.

Other characters include the cards, whose values are designated on their tutus, the flowers wearing costumes that were digitally printed to fabric with irregular edges true to nature and the cuddly hedgehogs portrayed by small children.

" 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' is a huge production with great staging," he said. "There's so much life in the show. It's a perfect gateway for families and children to discover ballet. While they're enjoying the spectacle, they can see the dancing and appreciate how it's done. Children interested in a career in ballet should love to dance and take every opportunity to perform."

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