The Power of Good Old-Fashioned Stagecraft

It seems like everywhere you look—from Broadway shows to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular—dance performances are getting more and more high-tech. A top-notch production isn't complete without a giant LED screen or an elaborate video system, creating effects directors could only dream about five years ago.

That's definitely true of Christopher Wheeldon's fanciful ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which uses all kinds of clever digital projections to bring the fantastic weirdness of Wonderland to life. I caught the National Ballet of Canada's performance of Alice's Adventures in NYC last night, and I was blown away by all the amazing technological tricks involved.

Here's the thing, though: The parts of the show that really made me say "wow" didn't involve that kind of modern-day wizardry. Yes, the video projection that makes it look like Alice is in free-fall down the rabbit hole is beautiful. But it's the ingeniousness of the wooden puppet version of Alice, who swims gracefully through that digital sea, that makes the moment stick in the memory. (The puppet designer knows his ballet, too: Puppet Alice has beautiful turnout and extension!) Yes, the digital playing card parade that marches across a giant screen brings us immediately into the Queen of Hearts' world. But it's the tutus worn by the dancer "cards"—with each stiff skirt shaped like either a diamond, heart, spade or club—that makes that world seem richly real.

National Ballet of Canada in Alice's Adventures (photo by Bruce Zinger)

Interestingly, one of the most vivid characters in the show is played not by a dancer, but by a bunch of disembodied puppet parts: the Cheshire Cat. His head and tail and legs rarely appear onstage at the same time, but so clever is the puppetry that we're immediately able to understand why Alice is captivated by him.

Alice (Sonia Rodriguez) with the Cheshire Cat (photo by Bruce Zinger)

I'll never resent a show for using spectacular digital effects. They're awesome, and they're helping the dance world move into the future. But there's nothing like good old-fashioned stagecraft to delight your inner 5-year-old. And 5-year-olds are tough critics.

Dance News
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Click here to vote for Emma.

There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "

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