Howard Ballet's 'Alice' succeeds in every respect

In his prime as a dancer, Stephen Greenston enjoyed an enviable career as a soloist with The National Ballet of Canada and as a principal with Germany's Stuttgart Ballet.

Now a much-sought-after teacher and choreographer on the international circuit, Greenston returned to his native Maryland recently to work with the Howard County Ballet on his very own ballet, "Alice in Wonderland."


Unveiled in Stuttgart some 14 years ago, Greenston's "Alice" had yet to receive its American premiere, and it was to that end that Kathi Ferguson, director of the Howard County Ballet, extended a collaborative hand to the choreographer.

The results of their efforts were on display at the Jim Rouse Theatre last weekend.


The Friday evening performance I attended was a success in every way but at the box office, for the audience was disappointingly small for such an auspicious occasion.

Artistically, this was an inventive, colorful, vivacious production that put a large, enthusiastic troupe of dancers of all ages through their paces in a host of attractive ways.

Greenston's piece begins with the colorful "reality" of a picnic full of characters only vaguely suggestive of punctilious rabbits, strange, sinuous caterpillars and imperious queens.

But once Alice enters her dream state, the fantasy characters begin assuming their familiar forms right out of Lewis Carroll's most famous flight of fancy.

Jennifer Sagawa of Oakland Mills High School made a charming, graceful Alice.

Other standouts included Natasha Kiryanova as an exceedingly limber Cheshire Cat, Erica Leaman as a regal, nose-in-the-air caterpillar and Julie Clime as the most delightfully fitful rabbit that has ever taken the Rouse Theatre stage.

Maria Buoaccorsi-Rodgers gave a wonderfully chilly portrayal of the Queen of Hearts in her hokey habanera sequence. And it was a delight to see Bolshoi-trained Edward Tuboltsev move past the smiling and pointing of the Lewis Carroll role to share his formidable artistry with the audience in the final scene.

Dancers young and old turned ensemble scenes such as "The Lobster Quadrille" and the "Croquet Game" with its all-human wickets, mallets and balls into highlights of the show.


Propelling the action forward was Braxton Blake's kinetically charged score, which is self-effacing enough not to dominate the proceedings, but evocative enough to keep things interesting.

Blake's elegantly poised accompaniment to the Tea Party is lovely indeed, as is the pastoral tone he establishes in the opening scene via the flute, oboe and horn.

All in all, this was a lovely evening at the ballet. My only regret was that more of you weren't there to share it with me. Another time, let's hope.