Even “normal” cats can seem sinister, the way they disappear, then spring back into view just to stare at you … unblinking.
Poor Alice. Besides dealing with the vaporous Cheshire Cat — who, of course, adds that famous grin to his insolent gaze — she suffers other creature discomforts, as well.
Like the punctuality-challenged rabbit she chooses to chase — in the process chasing her own perceived ideals of adulthood. Plus, at least in the case of Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance’s world-premiere version of the classic story, an alluring, streetwise Madd Hatter … who raps.
Well, why not?
Terpsicorps’ Alice is perhaps the most bizarre take on Lewis Carroll’s trippy tale ever orchestrated.
And that’s really saying something.
The contemporary-ballet company will, fittingly, debut the darkly magical work — their major production of the year — on Friday the 13th.
Conceived in Asheville, Alice pays no homage to tradition (however untraditional the original story may have been). Instead, the artists involved in the local show will sensualize the classic tale via communion with high-tech multimedia: The production blends live dance and theatrical lighting with cutting-edge animation, to be projected on a big screen.
Indeed, at Diana Wortham Theatre — forget what Grace Slick said — Alice will grow to be more than 10 feet tall.
But viewers may recognize local landmarks, at least. A photo of Beaucatcher Tunnel — reddened, scarred, blurred and looking very Twilight Zone — becomes the deep, mystical hole through which Alice tumbles to the other side.
Designer Gary Crossey of FastFWD created the animation on computer, blending layers of digital effects. And Craig Hobbs of Black Box Studio, also in Asheville, reformatted Crossey’s work to project it onto the large screen to be placed behind the live dancers.
This bold production is fresh ground even for innovative Terpsicorps, which adapts classical and contemporary ballets to new music, adding in the enhanced facial and body expression characteristic of modern dance. Debuting in Asheville a year ago, the troupe features 12 professional dancers working off-season from the North Carolina Dance Theatre in Raleigh and from major companies in New York, Omaha, Neb., and Nashville.
Alice will be portrayed by Heather Maloy, Terpsicorps’ artistic director and resident choreographer — who also happens to be among the company’s lead dancers.
In adapting Carroll’s classic, Maloy says she selected the “elements that were the most visual to me.”
Alice, Maloy explains, starts her journey in the “real world,” represented by dancers’ silhouettes behind a cyclorama enhanced by projected images of black-and-white, barren trees and clouds.
This world is portrayed as flat, one-dimensional. But hold on. Alice is in for quite a trip.
The rabbit appears in silhouette. Then a spinning image of a hole flashes, and the rabbit’s silhouette jumps toward it.
“A pre-filmed color projection of [the rabbit] takes over,” Maloy explains, further deconstructing the magic, “as we see [the dancer playing the rabbit] hurdled through space.”
Growing up is hard to do
Alice soon follows, tumbling into colorful, three-dimensional Wonderland. There, she is “forever chasing the beautiful yet harried rabbit into more new adventures,” the choreographer explains.
The speedy bunny is dressed almost identically to Alice — that is, half in black. Yet where her outfit shows white, his shines silver.
“The rabbit,” Maloy notes, “represents Alice’s image of herself as an adult. Both her hopes and fears, the beauty and glamour — but also the stress and detached nature of the busy adult.
“Most of the situations [in the story] reflect elements of growing up, the confusion and excitement, as well as the fear.”
Add the enticing sting of youthful rebellion to that mix. In fact, the rabbit’s dazzling attire is a clear manifestation of the show’s glam-rock edge, which Maloy describes as having “almost an ’80s or post-punk feel … lots of glitter and wigs.”
In past Terpsicorps productions, Maloy has devised such dramatic dance pieces as “Run Ragged,” about a workaholic surrounded by circling dancers who, she says, “get nowhere fast.” Similarly, Alice often goes ’round in circles as she encounters a silly but somehow harrowing world. The original Alice story, with its characters that gleefully — and out of apparent boredom — proclaim themselves crazy, poked fun at the Victorian idle rich (see accompanying sidebar).
However, amid this production’s whirl of experienced theatrical dancers and stunning digital imagery, there will materialize a face familiar to many who follow the regional music scene. Rock musician Matthew Bivins will play the star of the tea party, a rapping Madd Hatter with street cred to spare.
This Hatter is a seductive icon, not a blubbering fool, notes Maloy.