It seems like not too long ago that audiences ventured with Clara through the Land of the Sweets and now Cincinnati Ballet takes us yet on another journey, this time with Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. Septime Webre’s take on the iconic tale by Lewis Carroll is a feast for the senses both young and old can enjoy—vibrant sets and costumes, humor, an inspiring score by Matthew Pierce, and just enough touches of the classic story without being a total regurgitation (familiar characters like the Mad Hatter, King and Queen of Hearts, and White Rabbit all make their appearances). What’s more, Webre’s interpretation features choreography that both the balletomane, and the dancers themselves, can appreciate and find challenging—quick, complex footwork, intricate lifts and partnering sequences, and sweeping manèges. The dance of the flamingos in the first act is reminiscent of the entrance of the swans during act two of “Swan Lake,” complete with a pas de quatre like that found in the Tchaikovsky ballet.
Cincinnati Ballet’s dancers, now under the leadership of new artistic director Jodie Gates, did an exceptional job bringing Alice’s adventure down the rabbit hole to life. I saw two separate casts, one of which was headlined by a rising star within the company, newly minted soloist Katherine Ochoa. Ochoa proves to be one to watch. Her overall speed, height of her jumps, and fouettés (that have already made her a viral sensation on social media), were all complemented with a touch of playfulness and sweetness to her Alice.
The other cast, led by seasoned principal Melissa Gelfin De-Poli was more synchronized and “alive” overall. Gelfin De-Poli, who performed Alice back in 2015 as well, was clearly comfortable within the role, interactive with even the littlest cast members and expressive without being overdone.
Principal Sirui Liu owned her role as Alice’s mother and the Queen of Hearts from the moment she stepped on stage during the opening of Act One. Commandeering, haughty, and a force to be reckoned with.
The beauty of a ballet like “Alice” is the plethora of soloist roles that allow various company dancers to shine, one of which was corps de ballet member Samantha Riester who gave a captivating performance as the caterpillar during both casts I saw. Riester was fluid and supple as she was carried by four men who moved her through intricate lifts, manipulating her body through splits, flips and dives, giving the illusion of a mermaid moving through water. Llonnis del Toro Cintra, a new dancer in the company who already performed in a soloist role as the White Rabbit, was light on his feet and breezed through effortless petit allegro.
Looking ahead with eager anticipation, Gates has programmed a delicious repertoire for the 2023-2024 season featuring everything from Balanchine, Forsythe, Kylián and a new “Don Quixote.” It will be exciting to see the opportunities Cincinnati Ballet’s talented roster will have to shine.