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Ballerina Tanya Howard takes on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This season, Tanya Howard debuts as the role of Alice in the National Ballet of Canada’s rendition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the show originally premiered in 2011 to great praise for its unique take on Lewis Carroll’s classic story.

The story is told in Wheeldon’s characteristic style, with fantastical production elements that verge on theatrical, while the dazzlingly colourful set and costumes, designed by Bob Crowley, bring the story’s whimsical characters to life. Reminiscent of the carousel Wheeldon created with a circle of dancers in his short piece titled Carousel (A Dance), several of Alice’s characters are represented in a similar fashion. Eight female dancers wearing blue pointe shoes make up the Caterpillar’s tale, and another eight make up the animated Cheshire Cat.

Jillian Vanstone and Dylan Tedaldi in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
Jillian Vanstone and Dylan Tedaldi in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

Alice’s story is beloved by so many generations, and though it was written in 1865, it remains just as relevant today. Alice is “a story about bravery, a story about standing up for oneself, a story about experience,” said Howard. “It really could be anyone’s life.”

For some, getting into the character of a young girl might seem like a challenge, but as a mother of two, the 35-year-old is somewhat of an expert on the subject. She cites her experiences witnessing her children’s sense of wonderment as her entry into Alice’s mind. “My children are literally learning things for the first time, seeing new things and learning new words,” she said. “Alice has that feeling, you know, when she goes down the rabbit hole.”

Dylan Tedaldi in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
Dylan Tedaldi in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

While Carroll’s book gained its popularity from a clever use of language and word play, Wheeldon retells the story without dialogue. Instead, the dancers’ evocative expressions, elaborate visuals and Joby Talbot’s original music all come together to capture the essence of the iconic story.

“Music is so powerful,” muses Howard. “You can put on a song you haven’t heard for ten years and you can be right back to the first time you heard that song. In a ballet like this, that really carries. I think people will be surprised by how much they can get from movement and music.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland plays from March 14 – 29, 2015 at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts in Toronto.

Tanya Howard. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
Tanya Howard. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

Keep an eye out for our full Q&A with Tanya Howard coming out later this spring, where the ballerina discusses her life as a dancer, motherhood and offers tips on fitness.