“A lot of people see ballet as being highbrow,” says Judith Gani, the executive director of Alamo Arts Ballet Theatre. “Of course nothing could be farther from the truth,” Gani says with a smile. “It’s very exciting. It’s lots of fun… I mean, ‘Alice’ is full of things that I’m laughing at, and then I get tears in my eyes at the end! It’s very emotional.”
Alamo Arts Ballet Theatre is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and its fourth year producing “Alice! A Ballet Wonderland.” The two-act ballet is based on Lewis Carroll’s classic books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and also draws in part on Disney’s 2010 film starring Johnny Depp as an orange-haired futterwacking Mad Hatter. Danny Elfman’s score for that film, along with music by Tchaikovsky, provides the soundtrack for Gani’s version which she designed and choreographed with the company’s artistic director, Julie Morton-Simpson. “I made a list of all the parts [of the books] that I thought could be depicted through dance on stage. Pretty soon I had the whole ballet!” Gani says.
Gani was surprised how well the music fit with their choreography at times. “There are things in the music that sound like the Mad Hatter putting cubes of sugar into the tea,” she says with a laugh. “It’s been a lot of fun to find movement, gesture, and expression to show what’s happening at the tea party and set it to music.”
One important reason behind Gani and Morton-Simpson’s production is the opportunity for students at the affiliated Ballet Arts School to perform on stage with company members and professional dancers hired specially for these performances.
“There are children at Ballet Arts School and other studios who want to do more than an annual recital,” Gani explains. “They want to come every Sunday and practice for hours, leading up to a production where they’re on stage with professional dancers, having to do a very professional job.”
Students as young as seven take part in “Alice,” and start rehearsing as early as January for the May performances. At such a young age, it takes just a little extra time to learn and memorize all those counts and steps, but the payoff is worth it. Gani explains by remembering her own experience as a young girl, saying, “I loved being on stage. The whole thing of being in a costume, and learning a dance, and performing it, and feeling the presence of the audience. It’s like nothing else. And I see the kids responding to that as well.”
Alice! A Ballet Wonderland will take place at the Carver Community Cultural Center on May 7 at 7:30 p.m. and again on May 8 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or at the Carver box office.
[Disclosure: My daughter will be performing the part of a lobster in the production. She’s the tall one with glasses that looks like her daddy.]