Alice in Wonderland: Northwest Ballet Theater goes down the rabbit hole

Northwest Ballet Theater

1417 Cornwall Avenue


(360) 714-1246

It’s a sunny Saturday in May, but the 40 cast members and assorted crew on hand at the dress rehearsal for Northwest Ballet Theater’s revival of Alice in Wonderland appear to be more focused on furthering the story of a young girl’s adventures down a rabbit hole than they are in enjoying the springtime weather.

As Alice—a 21-but-looks-15 dancer named Hailey Forsberg—cinches her blue dress and stretches in advance of Act I, a quick look around NBT’s cavernous Cornwall Avenue locale reveals characters both familiar and foreign. The White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the Knave of Hearts (Ian Aegerter, 19) are easily recognizable, but I also spot mermaids and assorted sea creatures and other animals I can’t quite put a name to.

“Most of the plot has stayed the same, but we have added a few interesting numbers like the Flamingo Flamenco, Lobster Can-Can, and the Walrus and the Carpenter story, which involves an underwater scene including baby oysters, mermaids and the White and Black Pearl duet,” choreographer and artistic director John Bishop explains.

Bishop says other changes to the popular ballet that debuted last spring and is returning to stages in Mount Vernon and Bellingham in coming days—including Sat., May 20 at McIntyre Hall and June 3-4 at the Mount Baker Theatre—include video projection enhancements that make scenes such as Alice falling down the rabbit hole, shrinking in the library and wandering in a lush flower garden more believable.

“We also added more dramatic turns and lifts in the pas de deux with Alice and the Knave or Hearts,” he says.

And though the ballet relies on music and movement rather than dialogue, Bishop and company have made the performance one that audiences of all ages will not only understand, but also enjoy.

It makes sense that Northwest Ballet Theater’s rendition of Alice in Wonderland has intergenerational appeal. While the older dancers have the know-how to bring drama and comedy onstage via their technical skill, the pint-sized ones who are still learning the ropes manage to make audiences grin (even if they’re not all in step precisely at the same time).

“The little ones always steal the show,” NBT president Dan Jordan whispers to me as a particularly adorable trio of small, furry creatures take their positions on the floor below us.

For the most part, the younger kids behave themselves when they’re waiting on the sidelines for their next scenes, but it seems keeping track of what 40 dancers are up to during a two-hour ballet must be a mind-boggling feat of endurance.

“I have been doing this for a long time,” Bishop says of his choreography and directing skills. “It is never easy, but I try to organize time effectively and I have many experienced older dancers who also give me a hand. I have a veteran stage crew and design team, as well. As for the little dancers, they are a total joy to work with.”

Keeping track of the Mad Hatter is another thing. Bishop is reprising his role as the wacky tea party guest, and says he connects with the Wonderland resident.

“I relate to the character in that I perceive he is someone who sees life as kind of like a kaleidoscope, with constant changes in color, reflection, texture and shapes. When scenes in my ballet require all of those things to make a world like ‘Wonderland’ appear almost real, and yet totally unusual, I call upon my ‘inner Hatter’ to help me out.”

Whatever Bishop is doing, it’s working. Although the dress rehearsal took space in a well-lit room with all the inner workings of the ballet on full display, the magic of Lewis Carroll’s story about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole and spends time in a fantastical world unlike anything she’s known before was intact.

If you’re contemplating whether to see NBT’s rendition of Alice in Wonderland, keep in mind that in addition to featuring professional-level dancers and inventive choreography, care has also been taken to get every set piece, costume and lighting and special effect just right.

“Additionally, the score is compelling through every scene and the characters—many who play comical or even absurd roles—will take people on an adventure they never dreamed of,” Bishop says. “That is the magic of a live performance such as this.”

WHAT: Northwest Ballet Theater presents Alice in Wonderland
WHEN & WHERE: Sat., May 20 at Mount Vernon’s McIntyre Hall and June 3-4 at Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre
COST: $20-$35
INFO: or

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