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Alice beyond the Victorian Era
- Dyumna Chhabra

June 9, 2024

Over the years of reading English literature, if there’s one genre I tend to run away from, it is the classics, and I try to gravitate towards literatures that seek to be “Windows on the World” (Damrosch, 2003). ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is the epitome of classics from the Victorian era and probably a book I would not have picked up myself had it not been for the show. I am glad to say that reading the book turned out to be a good decision!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Photo: Sathish V

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll is an exemplary work that reaches out to young children whose curiosity and imagination have led them down the rabbit holes of dreams. After reading the book, my first impression of the number of characters on each page left me in awe of Carroll’s efforts to create a literary piece that changes its trajectory with each paragraph.
However, the twists and turns of the plot provided a blank canvas of Wonderland that was filled in by The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet on December 16 and 17, after months and months of navigating the dance space to bring forth Alice.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Photo: Sathish V

The concept of space in literature is as important as space in dance. A choreographer’s vision comes to life through accurate judgment of spatiality. A journey down the time-space continuum would reveal how a reflection of Carroll’s novel like this, when taken to stage, becomes what Henri Lefebvre defines as l’espace vecu or the lived space wherein each audience member draws on their interpretation to engage with and understand the story and the form (Havik, 2012, as cited in Yuncu, Belgin, et al., 2022). In this culmination of complex symbols and characters that the audience perceives, the music tracks, costumes, lighting, backdrops, and props are equal players in the play.

As someone who watches performances regularly, I believe that the adaptation of literature into dance is a very delicate line that the choreographer decides to cross. The sanctity of the text and the dance are things that must be respected and when staged, become a journey for the audience to engross themselves in. In Alice, the characters’ eccentricities were magnified, ballet’s prowess showcased, and the atmosphere transformed with each choreographic vision, be it the group presentation of characters like the Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat or the stupendous croquet match.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Photo by: Sathish V

Special mention goes to Niranjan Gokhale’s lighting design, a masterpiece in itself, ranging from a flower-bunch effect for the garden scene to a woody texture for Alice’s encounter with the Cheshire Cat. The whimsical and fanciful character of the music added another layer to the performance, rendering Alice unimaginable without the carefully chosen tracks.

The performance also nudges at the transcendental nature of art. Ms.Yana’s artistic vision was driven by the vast wonderland, and the presentation of the story itself through ballet presents how art withstands the test of time and is always there for posterity to go back to. Ultimately, it stands for me as a window into the wonderful world of dance that respects the literature it borrows from and lights it from an angle of joy, humor, and ballet!

Yuncu, Belgin, et al. ‘Analyzing Literary Space through “The Spatial Triad” by Henri Lefebvre in Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence”’. Hacettepe Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi, vol. 39, no. 1, June 2022, pp. 237–52.,

Dyumna Chhabra
Dyumna Chhabra is a Bharatanatyam dancer, and the Arts Coordinator at The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet, Bengaluru.

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