Tuesday, 27 February 2018 14:50

Off With The Set: Grand Rapids Ballet takes Alice to a whole new Wonderland

Written by  Jane Simons
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GR Ballet's Alice in Wonderland. GR Ballet's Alice in Wonderland. Photo by Eric Bouwens

This month, the Grand Rapids Ballet will pirouette, leap and float across Miller Auditorium’s stage against an all-white backdrop with scenes projected onto it, displaying some of the most iconic moments from Alice in Wonderland.

While not necessarily a new technique, choreographer Brian Enos said the use of multimedia is not as widely used in the United States as other countries.

“Typically, it’s not done with ballet companies,” said Enos, who also is the artistic director for The Big Muddy Dance Company in St. Louis. “The use of multimedia skews towards more contemporary companies. I have been influenced by contemporary work done over the years.”

With the exception of a very few hard set pieces that come in and out of view, most scenes in the production are brought to life by 360-degree images projected on the white floor, cyclorama and curtains. Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole, the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts croquet party are all brought to life onstage through the use of multimedia elements.

This concept is a collaboration between Enos and visual artist and designer Luis Grane, a renaissance visual artist best-known for his work in Hollywood with Dreamworks, Pixar and Disney on animated films.

“Luis is a visual artist and animator and he designed all of the costumes and set elements for the work,” Enos said. “My role is to orchestrate the dancing and movement and his style is very whimsical and kind of avant garde, so it’s a really cool collaboration working with him on the look of the piece.”

The production was originally created for the Grand Rapids Ballet to be performed at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre. It had its premiere in April and received glowing reviews. Enos said everything for the production was designed specifically for the Wege Theatre.

Still, Michael Erickson, marketing director for the ballet company, said he thinks the production will translate fairly seamlessly to the Miller Auditorium stage.

“It’s a challenging production in terms of the level of mixed media in the show,” Erickson said. “Projections take place constantly on the stage, surrounding walls and floors. A lot of that ‘wow’ factor comes from these projections.”

“With all of the technical elements translating to a different theater, that is going to be an interesting element,” Enos said. “The dancing can exist pretty much anywhere.”

Erickson said dancers from throughout the world audition for an opportunity to become resident members with the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. Japan and the Dominican Republic are among the countries and sovereign states represented.

“It’s very important for us to take what we do here at the ballet beyond the borders of Grand Rapids and expand our audience to important markets in Kalamazoo and the lakeshore,” Erickson said. “As communities get larger and space gets smaller, Kalamazoo is a viable market for us. We are 100-percent committed to taking more shows on the road.”

Because the world premier of Alice in Grand Rapids was such a success, Enos said the ballet company is excited to share its work with a broader audience.

“The only thing people should know is to expect the unexpected,” he said. “It’s a fun, whimsical, avant-garde production and it’s entertaining for people of all ages.”

Alice in Wonderland
Grand Rapids Ballet
Miller Auditorium
1341 Theatre Dr., Kalamazoo
millerauditorium.com

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