Alice and Giselle make perfect pair in UBallet spring show

UBallet’s spring show mixes old and new, featuring standard and original student choreography, as well as telling two classic but very different stories.

By Ilana Kowarski

[img id=”77767″ align=”alignleft”] Everyone knows the story of Alice in Wonderland, but no one thought it would come to the UChicago campus—as a ballet. For the first time in its history, University Ballet has transformed some of the most memorable scenes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass into an original dance show. Paired with the classic Adolphe Adam ballet, Giselle, UBallet’s spring show mixes old and new, featuring standard and original student choreography as well as telling two classic but very different stories.

With a mixture of tragedy and comedy, UBallet’s show takes its audience on an emotional roller coaster that ultimately ends on a high. The show begins with Giselle, the story of a fragile young girl who falls in love with a charming man with a secret identity. Upon discovering that her lover is engaged to another woman, Giselle dies of despair. Featuring the difficult choreography of the American Ballet Academy, the production is brought to life by an outstanding lead performance by first-year Vivi DiMarco, who elegantly conveys the trauma of a betrayed lover.

But the spring show ends on a lighter note with the student-choreographed Alice. UBallet’s dance sequence takes the audience on a charming journey through Wonderland, paying visits to the White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, and the Queen of Hearts along the way. Alice is one-of-a-kind, not simply because it is an original ballet, but because it features a unique mix of contemporary and classic dance and a distinctive combination of humor and grace. Both Giselle and Alice provide a good mix of ensemble and solo dance numbers and, if the dress rehearsal is any indication, there are exceptional performances in both shows.

Since its original performance in 1841, Giselle has captured the hearts of audiences the world over, becoming one of the most well-known ballets ever created—a fact that can make performing the ballet a rather intimidating prospect. For DiMarco, the part of Giselle has been a formidable challenge for her precisely because it is such a classic role. “Playing Giselle is a daunting task—it is one of the most famous roles in all of the ballet repertoire,” DiMarco explained. “There is a long history behind it and many expectations. The dancer must flawlessly execute all the traditional steps, yet portray the character in a way that is both true to the original story and memorable to the audience. Giselle is a very complex character, though she may seem simple to the audience. The challenge of conveying her emotional development without words is part of what makes ballet so difficult and so beautiful.”

For her part, third-year choreographer Natalie Jerkins said that Alice was rewarding for her because it called for more original thinking than Giselle. “Giselle is 100-percent classical choreography. It’s standardized. Nothing is original. Alice is the exact opposite and full of freedom with choreography. Some scenes are really funny; some are about the combination of classical and modern dance. There’s more room for unique expression. We have more than 10 different choreographers who all get to show a unique style,” Jenkins said.

The show has been a logistical challenge, with conflicting grad and undergraduate student schedules making rehearsals difficult to schedule. But for the most part, their work seems to have paid off. The dress rehearsal was entertaining and lovely, despite some minor technical problems. Though dancers were occasionally not in sync with one another, for the most part, the dancing was very graceful and quite impressive, and perhaps these mistakes will be corrected by the time of the actual performance.

Despite the challenges of the production, the dancers and choreographers of University Ballet are optimistic and feel that their show will certainly be one worth seeing. Third-year choreographer Angelina Liang said that both Alice and Giselle have something unique to offer. “Alice and Giselle are a lot of fun. Both halves come with a touch of insanity—one serious and, thankfully, one less so. UBallet has tried very hard recently to showcase ballets that viewers of all kinds, especially those who have never experienced a ballet before, can understand and appreciate. Students should expect attitude and flair as well as two stories filled with absolute wonder.”

Third-year Aisha Bradshaw, who plays Alice, agreed. “U of C students should come see the show because it’s got something for everyone,” she said. “The happy countryside scenes make a nice diversion from studying, the tragedy of Giselle is compelling, and Alice in Wonderland is just plain trippy.”