Artistic director and choreographer Courtney Lyon is taking her Ballet Quad Cities dancers down a rabbit hole that’s a little more Johnny Depp than Disney for “Alice in Wonderland” with Orchestra Iowa.
The ballet premieres March 16 at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, then moves to at the Adler Theatre in Davenport for two performances March 24.
“It’s a little more bizarre, more peculiar,” Lyon said of her re-imagining of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 tale of a little girl who falls through a rabbit hole and lands in a world full of oddities. Lyon prefers to forge a path that’s curiouser and curiouser
“We don’t want to reinterpret Disney,” she said. “My choreography is not predictable. I just like to be as creative as possible.”
Audiences, will however, see Alice in a familiar blue dress and white apron, “because that is how you recognize Alice,” Lyon said. They also will see the familiar characters — including the White Rabbit, caterpillar, Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts — all dancing to Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet score.
“Tchaikovsky’s music is really formal, and sometimes regal, and sometimes just epic and really full sounding,” she said. “We open up to Alice reading a book underneath a tree, so everything is very traditional until she turns the page and starts reading about how she falls down a rabbit hole. The stage around her transforms into a giant rabbit hole, and that’s when the ballet takes on a different look.”
And a different tactic to create the creatures.
Three dancers embody the caterpillar, with one in the torso and two in the back — sometimes acting as the hookah smoke.
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“I use the dancers sometimes as architecture, props or scenery,” she said. “They’re all there, but I’ve done everything in kind of a
fresh take or kind of a bizarre concept so this doesn’t look like a dated Victorian ballet or Disney. It looks very current.”
The look incorporates bright colors, unitards, wigs, and is “really comical, very humorous,” she said. “I’ve turned the Mad Hatter almost into a cabaret show look, with different takes on everything.
“But people who know the literature will recognize everything that happens on stage. I’ve worked word-for-word with the literature. ... What’s really fun about the book is the actual words that Lewis Carroll used — the puns, the alliteration, the tales he tells. That’s really fun to show through choreography.
“Dance steps are essentially words, so you can manipulate choreography in such a way to make people laugh, but they don’t even know why they’re laughing, or to repeat something so it’s gets a rhythm,” she said.
“The book has stayed with me in every rehearsal. I’m constantly referring to it and learning about the characters, but then what you see onstage, you’ve probably seen nothing like it before, so it’s a completely brand-new realized concept.”
Caroline Cady, 16, of Rock Island, Ill., is stepping into Alice’s dance shoes. The cast features 25 dancers, including the ballet company’s 11 professional members, as well as students from the Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, several other advanced dancers and a few preteens in roles appropriate for younger dancers, said Lyon, who has been choreographing works for the company for 10 years. She joined the company as a dancer in 2000, and after seven seasons and turning 30, she decided she was “ready for other challenges,” which included becoming artistic director in 2009.
She’s also excited about bringing the company’s established “Dance Me A Story” program to Cedar Rapids. It’s an interactive program where children can try on costumes, hear parts of the story, create some choreography and make their own short performance.
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“We already have 75 people registered, and a waiting list of 25,” she said of the hourlong program beginning at 11 a.m. March 15 at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. “That’s so cool. It seems like Cedar Rapids is really welcoming dance into their community, and literature.”
WHAT: World premiere: “Alice in Wonderland” ballet
FEATURING: Orchestra Iowa and Ballet Quad Cities
CEDAR RAPIDS: 7:30 p.m. March 16, Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE; $18 to $54, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com; youth tickets at the box office, (319) 366-8203
DAVENPORT: 2 and 8 p.m. March 24, Adler Theatre, 136 E. Third St.; $10 to $31, Adler Box Office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Adlertheatre.com/events/
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org