Ribbons, balls and clubs fly through the air as creatures, decks of cards and gold laméd knaves leap and dance. Up on her throne, a rather dour but beautiful woman is not amused.
“Off with their heads!” she shouts over the dance-heavy music.
Dorothy, we aren’t Kansas anymore.
If you haven’t guessed already, the setting is actually the wonderful world of Wonderland in this high-flying ode to Lewis Carroll’s fable-turned-Disney classic that is staging in Vernon this weekend.
Not too unlike the revamped, trippy Tim Burton movie from a few years ago, this Alice in Wonderland uses bold colours, effects and giant set pieces as a backdrop, but it also incorporates extreme athleticism and Cirque-like artistry.
At the helm is a former Olympian and Commonwealth Games champion, who today is being inducted into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.
It takes some limber ideas to take on a project such as this one, and as usual, Camille Martens is up to the task in presenting her own interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, along with members of her Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics Club and Cirque Theatre Company.
As in the past, the show uses a dynamic fusion of circus arts, drama, dance, gymnastics, acrobatics and Cirque-like storytelling to relay the story.
“It’s never a true adaptation,” said Martens, who last year presented Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
That show was captured in a behind-the-scenes documentary, Curtain Call, by local filmmaker Jim Elderton, which recently screened at the Performing Arts Centre. And Martens says Alice will be as much as a visual feast and will tell a story important for young people to hear.
“What I love about Alice in Wonderland is all the imagery. There’s the tea party and the caterpillars and The Queen of Heart’s court,” she said. “But when I went through the story, I struggled through the lines. There was no natural flow, so I thought about making it more of a story about a girl who is trying to find herself.”
In her adapted script, Martens explains that Alice is referred to as “she” at the start of the play, who succumbs to parental and outside pressures. However, it’s her wonderful imagination that allows her to escape and eventually confront her fears.
“In the first scene she is lost, in the second scene she’s confused, in the third, she’s scared, and then she’s mad,” said Martens. “The fun of it is seeing Alice get more sure of herself and confident.”
And as it happens, Alice, dressed in her trademark robin egg blue dress and white pinafore, is played by someone ranked second in the country as a junior rhythmic gymnast.
Kiah Ward not only shows her flexibility in the show –– the young athlete can kick her leg up alongside her body beyond a 90 degree angle –– but her acting skills.
“She’ll be off to the Pacific Rim championships in the U.S. in two months, so this is something fun for her to do in the meantime while still putting her training to use,” said Martens.
In fact, all the gymnasts along with the members of Martens’ Cirque Theatre Company, including instructor Brie-Anne MacPherson who plays the White Rabbit, are getting their workout in the show, which slips from scene to scene with full-on action.
“We use a lot of circus arts like juggling and acrobatics, and the show has a lot of gymnastics as we don’t want the kids to lose their fitness,” said Martens.
That will be demonstrated clearly when senior gymnast Hannah Stanley will show why she holds the record for doing the most double jumps in a row while skipping rope. (You will have to see it to believe it!)
A few notable local actors are also getting to stretch their legs, so to speak. W.L. Seaton Secondary School drama teacher Lana O’Brien is leading the court as the Queen of Hearts, whose storyline has a twist.
“The other queens are jealous of her. They bribe a knave to steal her tarts and end up in court,” said Martens, adding it will give a chance for the queens to show off their skills.
And it doesn’t hurt that they are played by national team members, Victoria Podollan as the Queen of Diamonds, Kelsey Anderson as the Queen of Spades and Loren Stanley as the Queen of Clubs.
Mia Herault, who retired from gymnastics last year and is now involved in theatre, plays the Mad Hatter, while Ben McLean, who was Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last year and appeared with O’Brien in Powerhouse Theatre’s The Taming of the Shrew a few years back, will be sitting atop a large, mechanical mushroom, built by the irrepressible Dave Brotsky, as the hookah-smoking caterpillar.
“A group of children will be playing his legs,” said Martens, who with Brotsky, has a ton of surprises planned.
Some of those other “crazy” ideas include the Cheshire Cat, which is fashioned from Japanese kabuki-style theatre, the “special” game of croquet, the Mad Hatter’s boat that features a hat rack, the 13 giant chairs and the telescopic table that serves for the tea party and comes apart for other scenes, and Alice tumbling through the rabbit hole, where time literally stands still.
“Brot and I play back and forth with ideas, and I always get input from the kids,” said Martens, adding the idea of changing Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum to Dumb and Dumber came from her young cast.
“I still only have six actors on the microphones, and before I used to pre-record lines to fill the gaps, but now that they are more around theatre people, the kids are comfortable to act and the Cirque Theatre has brought more drama and is more well-rounded with the addition of boys and adults.”
And, as always, it all culminates in a big dance number at the end.
Audiences can catch the extravaganza when the Cirque Theatre Company and the Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics Club presents Alice in Wonderland at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets are $25/adult, $20 student/senior, $16/ child under 12, $60/family of four and $5/eyeGO, available at the Ticket Seller box office, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.