Behind the Scenes of "Alice in Wonderland"

City Center Ballet uses layered lighting effects and detailed costumes to bring Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" to life in next month's ballet production.

Ever wonder just what goes into putting together a ballet performance? There's a lot more involved than just dancers. 

Today, we'll head behind the scenes of City Center Ballet to see how they go from this:

To this:

First, we spoke with Ashley Barrow, Technical Director for City Center's twice-yearly performances.

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Q: What is involved in producing a show like "Alice" for City Center Ballet? 

A: First, I secure a lighting designer, stage manager, and tech crew. I also bring in high school students to assist with the backstage tech crew. Then I create a master production calendar, facilitate the light rental, secure transportation for set pieces and have them built and painted, if needed. All of that comes together on our “pre-hang” day at the theatre. On that day we hang all lights, begin focusing lights, lay the dance floor, put together set pieces, and get the stage ready for tech rehearsal with the dancers. We have tech and dress rehearsals beginning Monday leading us to opening night. We only work for 4-5 hours each day of the rehearsal week. However, the dancers have been rehearsing for months leading up to the show. 

Q. What are some of the technical elements that are involved in this production? What kind of effects do they provide? 

A: For this show we use a lot of lighting effects including large moving lights to create the “falling down the rabbit hole” moment. We also use haze (smoke/fog) for effect. One cool aspect is the caterpillar set pieces are made out of a playground slide.

Q: What production elements are essential for a production of this caliber?

A: We hire a professional union stage crew and mix it with local students to keep an element of education since the company is built almost completely of local high school dancers. Some of the main roles are filled with professional dancers. No matter the caliber of dance, the tech elements are treated the same as they would be for a tour or any other professional group.

CCB always hire professional dancers that are great to work with and also are willing to work with the local dancers on their talent. They sometimes teach classes, lead warm-ups and give extra time to benefit our local dancers.

Q: What's different this time from the "Alice" performance 3 years ago?

A: Audiences who enjoyed the show 3 years ago will be happy to know we have new dancers joining our cast and some of our local dancers have moved up the ranks to lead roles and they dance beautifully. We are saying goodbye to 3 seniors. We have also added Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in this year to the show. 

Next, we talked with Jen Henderson, Resident Choreographer, who has been with City Center for ten seasons. She is who brought the idea of "Alice" to life as a ballet performance. 

Q: How did you come up with the idea for "Alice" as a ballet performance? 

A: The board was looking for something new, and proposed the idea of Alice. I jumped all over it because I thought, "How fun! How cool!" There are so many funky, unusual details to the story that you don't always see in classical ballet, and I thought, "We can really have some fun with this." I had no idea what a difficult production it was to put together!

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced?

A: There were a lot of challenges I came across. How are we going to make "Down the Rabbit Hole" effective on the stage? We rely heavily on lighting for all of that. The lightening, the costumes, and the story line all together are really quite something special. 

We had to figure out how to make a caterpillar. My costume designer, Elizabeth Lorie, and I, have this accordion style costume and the dancers are the legs. It's definitely a collaboration to make this all work. 

Q: What is your favorite part of the production? 

A: My favorite section in the whole ballet is the ocean scene with the lobsters and the turtles, just because the music is so fun. The music played a big part for me, because it's so creative. But we keep Ashley and the technical guys on their toes with the technical elements. 

It's been great to push the envelope away from the "classical" world of ballet a little bit. It's been nice to do something more. We've pushed the dancers, too. I've used a lot more contemporary movements alongside classical turnout steps. 

Make sure to go to Lebanon Opera House right now and buy "Alice in Wonderland" tickets (May 4-6) for what is sure to be an incredible production, fun for the entire family! 


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