Above – Artists of The Australian Ballet. Photo – Daniel Boud

Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of those ballets that just keeps on giving. This is its third Melbourne outing from The Australian Ballet since 2017 and audiences still can’t get enough of its visual delights.

Other than some cast changes, not much is different from 2019, with Ako Kondo still playing Alice and looking just as youthful and doe-eyed as she did in both previous seasons. She channels a young girl’s curiousity with ease as she wanders through various scenarios, as massive projections (by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington) make her appear minuscule, free-falling, floating and cramped. 

Alice is the glue piecing all the action together, but the real stars are large scale puppetry (design by Toby Olie) and zany costuming (by Bob Crowley). The Cheshire Cat takes seven puppeteers to maneuver while the Queen of Hearts (Jill Ogai) is confined from the trunk down in a hard red bulbous casing and wheeled around by minions. 

From the grotesque – the Duchess’s home butcher shop where sausage making is in full swing, to the surreal – dancing topiaries and jester-like gardeners painting roses red, the scenes cumulatively build to the Act 3 finale in the Queens’ court.

This last Act brings the various imagery together, as the collection of creatures, from baby porcupines to frogs to a cavalcade of dancing playing cards, unites for total mayhem. Plus, the Queen, finally freed from her sculptural costume, performs (in one of the stand out choreographic sequences) a solo that plays humourously with balletic convention.

Chengwu Guo remains cool as a cucumber as White Rabbit and imbues his role with a buoyant physicality especially appropriate for his character. A special highlight is Jake Mangakahia as the shirtless caterpillar, who body-rolls his chiselled, tanned physique across stage as a harem looks on. 

Joey Talbot’s eclectic and often cinematic score sustains all the adventures, drawing on many different motifs to suit the moods and continually surprises as it shapeshifts with the activity on stage. 

At three hours long, audiences will get their money’s worth but a tighter run time would be a jauntier ride.

Nevertheless, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has already earned its credentials as a bona fide hit several times over. At this point, it can just enjoy status as a jam-packed, fun ballet and continue its shennanigans down and up the rabbit hole for many more seasons to come.

Event details

The Australian Ballet presents
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Choreography Christopher Wheeldon

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 15 – 26 March 2024
Bookings: australianballet.com.au

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