Ballet Quad Cities is back at the gorgeous Adler Theatre in downtown Davenport next weekend for a reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
In a fun-filled twist in Alice’s adventures on Saturday, April 9, you can enjoy an imaginative and unforgettable journey through Wonderland with the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts and many more of your favorite characters from this classic Lewis Carroll story.
BQC artistic director Courtney Lyon, who choreographed the ballet, is glad to have a fuller production — compared to the colorful one last April, an abridged (hour-long) version at The Outing Club in Davenport. Then, she removed some characters (like the Cheshire Cat) and some scenes. The new version is about 80 minutes, with full lighting and sets.
“It’s really being able to get a larger number of dancers on stage and be able to dance full out — because this company is awesome,” Lyon said recently. “They’re great dancers, so it’s nice to feel I’m not limited by any reason. It’s just the idea we’re in this larger space, so we expand everything. That feels really good for the dancers, and then for the audiences. It’s exciting.”
Last year featured six professional dancers and a handful of community cast, while this year, Lyon has 13 professional dancers and again a few community dancers. This is the first “Alice” ballet at the Adler since spring 2018.
Getting back to “The Nutcracker” at the Adler in December 2021 (after two years without) was “awesome,” Lyon said.
“People were thrilled to be there; some people said it was the best Nutcracker they’d seen yet,” she said. “We’re always upping our game and putting a better production on stage. It means it really hit home for people.”
Last year at the Outing Club, Alice was played by Meghan Phillips, who left the company to join the Confluence Ballet Co. in Pittsburgh, Penn. This time, Alice is danced by Madeleine Rhode, who’s at the end of her third season with BQC, and she’s signed on to continue next season. Lyon said she adjusted the Alice choreography for her.
“Maddie has some lovely qualities about her that, if I didn’t bring them out on stage would be a shame,” she said. “I make sure to bring out all her best qualities and weave it through the choreography, and I also want to challenge Maddie. I want her always for the choreography to be just a little more difficult every time. So they’re always improving their skills.”
New scenes this time
A new “Alice” scene this year is “The Garden of the Living Flowers” (which is from Lewis Carroll’s second “Alice” book), Lyon said. “I’m incorporating a brand-new prop for that,” she said of a big garland of flowers, which expands across about half the stage. “I was looking for inspiration, for a new idea.”
The arranger of the Tchaikovsky score (Carl Davis) has that title in the ballet, giving it a more complete story arc, she noted.
At the Outing Club in 2021, the company didn’t get to offer full lighting effects that really add o he impact, particularly restoring the Cheshire Cat scene which was gone las year, Lyon said.
“That scene, I was inspired by how the Cheshire Cat disappears and his smile is the last thing left behind,” she said. “So I wanted to use a stage effect with a dark backdrop and a male dancer dressed all in black. He’s partnering Alice, lifting her up, twirling her around. She’s asking the Cheshire Cat, which way do I go?”
There’s a lighting effect in the new production, where the audience will see a huge cat smile, but won’t see the cat body, and will see Alice floating, Lyon said.
Last year, Rhode was the White Rabbit. “She’s a great actress, a great dancer, very musical,” Lyon said. “She was great in that role and thought she’d be an awesome Alice.”
Rhode, a 22-year-old Milwaukee native (who began dancing at 5), danced the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara’s Mom and a snowflake in the last “Nutcracker.” She also was the Sugar Plum Fairy in a jazzier, abridged version of “Nutcracker” in December 2020 at Outing Club.
“It was so great to be back on a big stage, and have a full audience,” she said recently.
Rhode grew up training with the Milwaukee Ballet School, and after finishing high school, performed in their second company for a year. BQC was her first professional contract, starting in fall 2019.
Pros and cons of Outing Club
The Outing Club, 2109 Brady St., Davenport, is a much more intimate venue, and the company did both performances out on the lawn (in summers of 2020 and 2021), and inside the ballroom.
“With the audience being close, you can make a lot more eye contact with them,” Rhode said, noting she did similar ballroom shows in Milwaukee. “You see them as they’re enjoying the show.”
She loved Ballet on the Lawn. “Performing outdoors, in the fresh air, it’s a unique experience that I think all of us dancers really appreciated and enjoyed. When they brought that back this year, even when things started to open back up again, a lot of us really looked forward to having that opportunity again.”
Indoor shows were smaller audiences (by design), drawing the true ballet fans, Rhode said.
“Even though it was a more informal setting, it was more formal than the outdoor performances,” she said. “As dancers, we appreciate them — whether they’re longtime supporters, donors to the ballet.”
It can also be nerve-wracking for dancers to see audiences so close, Rhode said.
“Sometimes, it throws you off a little bit, to see the performers making eye contact with you,” she said. “Being able to see your own expression — as an audience member, you’re not supposed to be seen. I think sometimes, it catches them off guard, and in turn, it’s like, oops, as a performer — they weren’t expecting that. It’s an interesting observation I’ve put together from all those indoor dinners we’ve had.”
“As an audience member, they like that and appreciate that too — that they can feel a better sense of getting to know either your character, the story line,” Rhode said.
Back at the Adler
“When you’re on a bigger stage, the audience gets a lot more of an overall — whether an atmosphere vibe, compared to tuning in on one specific thing. There are pros and cons to that,” she said. “Yeah, it’s just different, but I think there are positives to offering both in a season.”
“I love classical ballet — obviously, I was trained in it, so you’d think that’s something near and dear to my heart,” Rhode said. “I was able to do the Sugar Plum pas de deux with the cavalier, which was something I hadn’t been able to do yet with the company. So that was just a dream come true, definitely.”
Having been in “Alice” last year, White Rabbi and Alice have a close connection, so being able to be in that role, she loves taking on Alice this year.
“Trying to put my own take on it, it’s really neat,” Rhode said. “I still remember it easily. Being Alice has been great — a great rehearsal process, very collaborative, which is great, pushing my dance capabilities.”
She’s been a fan of filmed “Alice” versions, and was in the student cast of the ballet in Milwaukee.
They didn’t get to rehearse at the Adler until this week, and will have just two performances on one day.
Thrill of live music and more
Rhode reveled in the chance to dance to live music, with Orchestra Iowa at the “Nutcracker” shows, including in Cedar Rapids, this past December. “Alice” will use pre-recorded music.
“Something about live orchestra, live music, it’s just a different feeling,” she said. “There’s a different fullness to it. You’re working toward the same goal, whether you’re a musician or a dancer.”
Rhode is a bit nervous with all the extra production pieces that will be part of the Adler, which she can’t control.
“You have to do your best; this is what we rehearsed,” she said. “There are things you can’t help and it is what it is. You go with the flow.”
Rhode will teach at the BQC school this summer, which she’s done since she started here.
“I’d say I’m one of the youngest teachers,” she said. “I enjoy it a lot. During the school year especially, you see the students — you see them progress and make connections in their brain, which translates to their body. That is really neat — as a dancer, growing up you don’t know if things are making sense, but your teacher can see that.”
“Knowing that they’re doing good, they’re on the right track, is really helpful,” Rhode said. “Then I not only teach ballet classes, but I also teach repertoire to them, which is taking classical ballet variations, and teaching it to them.”
“Alice in Wonderland” will be presented Saturday, April 9 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Adler, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport. Tickets are $25 for adults, $19 for students and seniors, and $15 for children 12 and under, available HERE.