Performing Arts: ALICE (in Wonderland)

The Washington Ballet’s interpretation of the Lewis Carroll classic wowed.
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as the Queen of Hearts, and as Alice, in The Washington Ballet's ALICE (in Wonderland). (Photo courtesy of The Washington Ballet)

At the end of his opening night speech thanking patrons and investors for making possible the production of ALICE (in Wonderland) (which quickly sold out its three-day run at the Kennedy Center last week), Washington Ballet Artistic Director told those of us lucky enough to be in the audience to “buckle your seatbelts, as it’s going to be a wild ride.” Indeed. The troupe’s latest work included a duo of bright, red-coiffed characters riding a bicycle built for two midair across the stage, an enormous Jabberwocky deftly navigated on sticks a la a Chinese New Year dragon dance, and a Fish Footman whose appearance evoked thoughts of Elton John’s more flamboyant years.

Maki Onuki’s diminutive figure alone made her very convincing as Alice (I was very surprised to learn that she’s 27). Add to that her wide-eyed expressions, genuine smile and movements that were at once playful, innocent and energetic, and it’s easy to see how audience members were transported to this “little girl’s” wild ride. Much of Onuki’s choreography bordered on the acrobatic, especially when she was thrown and spun around during pas de deux with the Cheshire Cat or White Rabbit; she really showed her chops during her solos exploring the fantasy world in which she finds herself. During Act 2’s croquet scene, she let loose with a dizzying series of fouette turns and pirouettes that were amazing to watch.

’s White Rabbit had a frenetic twitchiness to him — after all, he was late for an important date, a detail brought home by his white waistcoat adorned with clocks. Luis Torres brought a cool, 1960s jazzy vibe to the Cheshire Cat as he nuzzled and purred in his scenes with Alice — flirty, in a girl-meets-feline sort of way. And ’s Mad Hatter was wonderfully zany and more than a little bit loopy, but less creepy than in other renditions (like Johnny Depp’s portrayal in the recent Tim Burton film). And brought a strength and graceful athleticism to both the Dodo Bird and the Joker. The height he achieved on his leaps was nothing short of breathtaking.

It was wicked fun to watch the Queen of Hearts, portrayed by Sona Kharatian. Her scenes were bathed in red, with eye-grabbing backdrops like one huge red rose, or a series of heart cards pulled from the deck. The striking black-and-red costume and red snakeskin tights only added to her naughty, haughty appeal. (Liz Vandal’s costume choices overall were stunning and whimsical — I loved the floppy heart cards that served as tutus for those in the queen’s court. So fun.)

(Photo courtesy of The Washington Ballet)

It couldn’t have been easy to bring Carroll’s mad, mad hallucinogenic world to the stage, but clever elements abounded. The Card Gardeners painting the white roses red to avoid the Queen of Heart’s rage (she absolutely abhors white roses…) included rose dancers — adorned in green leotards and tights complete with thorns — unfastening the white toppers on their heads to reveal the bright red petals that are acceptable to the mean monarch. Dancers costumed as pink flamingos stiffened their frames to indeed serve as croquet mallets, used to hit young ballet students adorably dressed as fuzzy brown hedgehogs. Wires, a trapeze and a huge blue dress were employed to demonstrate Alice’s exaggerated height after she drank the potion. Anther dancer was cleverly hidden under the dress, taking tiny steps in the same white pointe shoes Alice wore. (By the way, the potion to make Alice grow tall was delivered to her via a parachute. Not sure if it was intentional, but the detail was not lost on this Hunger Games fan who immediately thought of the prizes delivered to tributes during the game. I heard a few chuckles in the audience, so maybe I wasn’t the only one.)

Of course, no version of Alice in Wonderland would do the book justice without a nod to the psychedelic undertones that run throughout (one pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small). Just ask Alice, who met a peculiar caterpillar also played by Kharatian, who limberly undulated with the help of a few friends, and then transformed into a beautiful butterfly, while Alice and company took a few drags from a hookah pipe. What a long, strange and wonderful trip it was.

(Photo courtesy of District Commons)

If you are looking for a bite to eat before any show at the Kennedy Center, consider nearby District Commons (2200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 202-587-8277). It’s located just a block from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop, which is also the location for the free shuttle that runs regularly between the Kennedy Center (look for the sign near the Metro escalators, and the red shuttle that’s clearly marked.) If you are going to a show with younger audience members, it’s an especially great choice, as the children’s menu includes well-thought-out choices like grilled catch of the day with mashed potatoes, mozzarella and tomato flatbread, or shrimp and French fries (all are priced at $6.) My 8-year-old daughter and I stopped in for a pre-theater dinner, and opted to share a few dishes from the regular menu. The hot pretzel baguette with mustard butter ($2) was the perfect way to start — soft, warm, salty and just like the beloved treat from a cart. Blue Bay Maine mussels ($12) are prepared in three ways: red, white and blue. Don’t miss the white, which our server cited as the most popular. They get a citrus-y kick from house-made limoncello and sprigs of lemon thyme, along with over cured tomatoes, and are finished with a touch of cream. And the roasted duck “low and slow” ($24) is tender, juicy and served over a bed of wild rice and sweet potato hash, which gets a touch of sweet-and-hot from a Sorghum chili glaze.

District Commons is also currently featuring several cocktails aged in used Bourbon barrels for four to six weeks. The Amerigroni ($14) is softer and mellower than its Italian cousin the Negroni, with house-made Amer Picon, Bluecoat Gin and Quady Vya Sweet Vermouth. Oh, and kids of any age will enjoy the Mini Brown Cow for dessert: four mini glasses of vanilla ice cream served on a wooden board, along with a bottle of root beer from adjacent Burger Tap and Shake.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.

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