For those who don’t know, I have a background in dance. Middle eastern dance specifically. For almost two decades I performed (off and on) doing things like a cape dance or sword dance, with at least half that a member of Troupe Zaghareet. So I looked forward so very much to Bellydance Evolution’s full length show of Alice in Wonderland at El Portal Theatre in NoHo! An art form I love coupled with one of my favorite stories. What more could I ask for?
Let us be very clear. The dancers and dances turned out utterly wonderful. The beauty and skill of pretty much everyone proved a joy to behold. A great deal of imagination and effort went into this performance, and it showed! Costumes were fantastic! Dancing superb! The lights and (sometimes live) music lent themselves to a fantastical show performed by talented, beautiful dancers. Kudos to them all, including composer Paul Dinletir.
It had precious little to do with Alice in Wonderland, however. This marks the fifth theatrical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s work (in one way or another) to appear on a Los Angele stage in the last three years (at least that I’ve personally seen). They ran a wide range, in budget and length and style. Bellydance Evolution’s production is the least faithful of them all to the source material. Costumes suggested characters from the book, a few dances seemed to have a few elements included, but in truth there was no “plot” nor any sense of baffling wonder, hardly any tension between such characters as there were, nor did Alice serve as anything save a character who wandered into every dance sooner or later. In short I could find no story. And while Alice was there, I got zero sense of her journey.
None of which takes away from the dancing! Alice (Heather Aued) proved a beautiful dancer full of energy and sparkle. I really enjoyed the Mad Hatter (Rin Ajna) as nearly the only character who seemed to almost fit into the supposed story, i.e. her dancing appeared to come from a strange and warped imagination in some way –and like all such in this show, gloriously skilled as well as lovely to experience. The Caterpillar (Sharon Kihara) had what seemed to me the best costume, with a headdress I hope weighed nowhere near what it might. Likewise the Queen of Hearts (Jillina Carlano) made a powerful entrance and showed off her considerable skill with very real dash. Okay, one drum solo went on a tad long for my taste but that is nitpicking. I liked the White Rabbit (Bryce Moyer) very much, especially my favorite bit when he engaged in a chase with Alice and the Mad Hatter—one that ended up inside the audience!
So the show dazzled and pleased me! It also disappointed, rather severely, because I really very much wanted to see Alice in Wonderland. Frankly I wish I’d been warned this wouldn’t really be much of an adaptation at all. Then I could have simply sat back, smiled and let the dance warm my soul.
As of this writing, Bellydance Evolution’s Alice in Wonderland has closed after two scheduled performances. However, it is a regular piece of that troupe’s repertoire and will no doubt return. I recommend it, especially for those who love dance—and especially as an introduction to middle eastern dance! But don’t go in expecting to see much of the Lewis Carroll.
Note: These photos are from last year’s production of the same piece, which had a slightly different cast and evidently tailored the choreography to that.