Is there a more off-putting marketing ploy than the phrase, “Fun for children of all ages?” One of the innumerable beauties of “Alice,” Giorgio Madia’s new work based on Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” is that it is distinctly, blessedly aimed at adults.
No prim and proper English child, this Alice scratches her behind, wipes her nose with her hand and emits an earthshaking belch. Costumed by Bruno Schwengl, she looks like a kinky 1960s Playboy fantasy of a naughty schoolgirl: plaid, pleated micro-miniskirt barely concealing lacy undies, white blouse with necktie, pageboy haircut and black knee-high stockings suggest a dominatrix-in-training.
Alice’s first appearance, executing gymnastic moves on a swing arcing across the entire width of the stage, tells us right away this is no bored little innocent, but a young woman on the threshold of discovering her sexuality.
Madia has created a sort of ballet-cum-variety show that never ceases to dazzle or titillate. To facilitate the nonstop, dizzying action, seven dancers portray Alice, but (until the finale with a stage filled with Alices of all sexes) we never see more than one at a time: sometimes a head protruding from one side of the stage and a torso from the other, or one Alice disappearing down a hole, while another Alice is seen high above the stage, making her descent to Wonderland.
The dancing — nothing like classical ballet — is athletic, rowdy, raucous and raunchy. The jokes range from classic (a music-hall pantomime of two footmen engaged in a gross misunderstanding over the delivery of the Queen of Hearts’ invitation to the Duke) to topical (as Alice tumbles from the flies in slow-motion, a bottle of Prozac is among the giant household objects flowing upward) to magnificently cheesy (a truly awful, vainglorious magician and his bunny-suited assistant, en pointe, milk the house for applause).
The sets are minimal but effective; Schwengl’s designs are the true eye-poppers, especially a dress made of giant playing cards and a wild headpiece for the Queen of Hearts. The playing cards are dancers in stylized underwear who seem to have misplaced their pants and dresses, each marked with a heart, spade, club or diamond. Madia’s way of shuffling the cards and then fanning out a hand is nothing short of genius.
Each of the Alices is a wonder, Harald Baluch is wildly funny as the greaseball magician, but Emil Galazka steals the show as the hyperactive, acrobatic White Rabbit, sporting a bowler hat with requisite bunny ears, half a pair of tights that leaves one buttock and leg exposed and, of course, a fluffy tail. As the Footmen, Walid Abdel and Patrik Hullman offer an object lesson in old-school vaudeville shtick.
Tying it all together, Madia has set the work to music by Nino Rota, best known for his scores for Fellini’s films: rambunctious, sensuous, seductive, ultimately magical. The band is given its due: The work opens and closes with the full symphony orchestra rising and descending on an elevator from the pit to stage level.
There may be no better entertainment for visitors to Vienna who want an evening out but don’t like classical music or can’t afford to mortgage the house to buy tickets for the State Opera. Initial run has been extended through April 19, and “Alice” will return to the repertory for the 2005-06 season.