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Alice in balletland.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

MENTION LEWIS Carroll's children's classic "Alice in Wonderland" to Eugene Ballet choreographer Toni Pimble, and she immediately starts in about the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts.

Created in 1993 and revived in 1995, Pimble's youth-oriented "Alice in Wonderland" is one of the most popular works in the ballet company's repertoire. Eugene Ballet has presented the work on tours in 26 states.

And no wonder: Its adventuresome choreography, imaginative costumes, fantasy sets and whimsical props bring the children's favorite to life in a most inviting way.

"We have the Pig and Pepper sequence with the Fish Footman, the Cook and the Duchess," Pimble says. `We have the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, the Queen's croquet grounds, with all of the cards, and of course the White Rabbit. Also the Lobster Quadrille, with the Gryphon and the two dancing lobsters and a Mock Turtle.

"It's really a fun production, and it's really geared toward children."

One of the sequences that regularly delights audiences is the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, in which the participants sip tea while zipping from place to place.

"The Mad Hatter, March Hare and the Dormouse are sitting on rolling chairs," Pimble says. "We actually have to strap them in to keep them seated. They do a whole dance on chairs, with Alice chasing them around."

The tea party table was created from foam by costumer Lynn Bowers. Two dancers (Neysa Fulsome and Dale Jordan) toil underneath the table in order to make it "dance."

"Alice has quite a time chasing it all over the stage, trying to catch it," Pimble says with a laugh.

LIKE ALMOST everyone, Pimble first came into contact with "Alice in Wonderland" when she was a child. Only as an adult did she learn about the "fascinating" man who wrote it.

"Lewis Carroll was a mathematician at Oxford,' she says. `His real name was Charles Dodgson. He felt more at home with little kids. He would make up stories for the three Liddell children - Alice and her two sisters - that he and his friend, Robinson Duckworth, used to take punting on the Thames.

`He made up these stories as entertainment. I think his friend suggested to him he should write a book. There are all kinds of references to them in the book. There's a Pool of Tears in which there's a duck, and that refers to Robinson Duckworth."

To create a Pool of Tears on stage, Bowers used yards and yards of silk cloth.

"We wanted to create images that would make the audience use their imagination, in a sense, to figure out what it is that is going on, on stage," Pimble says.

Showing Alice's descent down the Rabbit Hole posed an even greater challenge. Rather than doing the obvious, such as lowering Alice on a rope, Pimble represented it through photographs.

"Lewis Carroll was very interested in photography,' she says, `which was just getting started in the late 1800s. He took lots of photographs. We have these large doors that we use to magically introduce Alice.

`We used photographs on these doors of a young Alice. They move around the stage. That's our way of going into the dream."

The ballet covers most of the book, but Pimble says she skipped a few things.

"There was a whole thing about rats that I left out. I figure we have enough rats in `The Nutcracker' to last a lifetime."

Also missing are Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, who were not in "Alice in Wonderland" but in the companion story, "Through the Looking-Glass."

Featured in the role of Alice is Eugene Ballet Company principal dancer Brett Mills, who has danced such leading roles as Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Beauty in "Beauty & The Beast," Odette in "Swan Lake" and Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet."

Actually, the work involves the entire 20-member company, plus eight young dancers from the Eugene School of Ballet. Other familiar characters are danced by Matthew Hope (White Rabbit), Stephanie Parker (Dormouse), Ruben Gerding (March Hare), Hyoung-Il Joung (King of Hearts), Jennifer Martin (Queen of Hearts), and Jared Hunt and Kyung Man Moon (Caterpillar).

Pimble uses the music of English composers Malcolm Arnold, Benjamin Britten, Percy Grainger and William Walton.

Telling Alice's adventures takes about 50 minutes, which Pimble believes is "about right" for young audiences.

PAIRED WITH "Alice in Wonderland" is another fanciful, prop-heavy ballet, "Silk & Steel," which had its premiere in November 1999.

The five-movement work involves a number of highly unusual props made of silk and steel - hoops, umbrellas and such.

The idea for using large props (created by Eugene silk artist and designer Steven Oshatz) came to Pimble while she was reading a CD program booklet that discussed composer Libby Larson's "Parachute Dancing":

"She wrote the piece because she had read about a Renaissance event in which they would have a three-day festival. These dancers with huge umbrellas would dance on top of the castle walks, which were about 15 feet high. They would jump off the walls and float down with these umbrellas."

The music is a collection of Renaissance and medieval selections by Giancinto Ansalone, Pierre Francisque Caroubel, John Holmes, Paul Peuerl, Michael Praetorius and several anonymous composers.

At 40 minutes in length, Pimble calls `Silk & Steel' appropriate for all ages.

`There's enough visually interesting elements that I think children will like that piece, too. It's a lot of fun."

Arts reporter Fred Crafts can be reached by phone at 338-2575 and by e-mail at fcrafts@guardnet.com.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

WHAT: Lewis Carroll's children's classic is paired with "Silk & Steel," both choreographed by Toni Pimble and danced by the Eugene Ballet Company

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 24

WHERE: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh and Willamette streets

HOW MUCH: $16 to $63 through the Hult Center box office, 682-5000

CAPTION(S):

Stephanie Parker represents the softer side of the equation as the Eugene Ballet brings back its popular 1999 work, `Silk & Steel.'
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Title Annotation:Eugene Ballet reprises its fanciful rendition of the Lewis Carroll classic; Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 17, 2002
Words:1005
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