Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that requires quick thinking on and off your feet

Ballet that Juneau Dance Theatre calls its most elaborate production ever opens Friday at JDHS.

It’s “Alice in Wonderland” so one has to expect things are going to get carried away — especially if you happen to be Alice.

So while Allison Gornik, 12, is at center stage — or, put more accurately, all over the stage — as the namesake character in what Juneau Dance Theatre is calling its most elaborate ballet production ever, she isn’t always in control of her location or destination. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are among the inhabitants of Wonderland who sweep her off her feet, in a manner of speaking, and then there’s the Mad Tea Party.

“It’s like five minutes long and it’s super-hard to memorize,” she said during a break in a rehearsal Saturday. “I get picked up a lot and it’s fast.”

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (played by Lyra Culbreth and Baila Ouellette) sweep Alice (played by Allison Gornik) off her feet during a rehearsal of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (played by Lyra Culbreth and Baila Ouellette) sweep Alice (played by Allison Gornik) off her feet during a rehearsal of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

But while the scene is the most challenging, Gornik said it also happens to her favorite in the two-hour production. A member of the theater for three years, this is her first time in a lead role and she said one of the best performance aspects of that is “you get to interact with all the characters.”

The “Alice in Wonderland” the theater is staging for three days starting Friday is the ballet production by Lori Grooters and Serkan Usta, which adheres more to the Disney movie than Lewis Carroll’s literary original that some critics say is a bit too “trippy” for kids. Zachary Hench, the theater’s artistic director, said Thursday he got the idea to bring the ballet to Juneau when a longtime friend who has a ballet school in Iowa mentioned his staging of it during a visit last summer.

Both of them began work on the ballet with the Juneau students in February, Hench said.

“We set the whole ballet on the students in two weeks, which was no easy feat, but the students were amazing,” he said. “They learned really, really fast.”

About 60 students of all ages, some playing multiple characters, are part of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

About 60 students of all ages, some playing multiple characters, are part of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

In addition to about 60 students of all ages participating in the theater’s annual Spring Showcase production, there are several adults including two professionals from Alabama Ballet, Juan Castellanos and Katie Drozd. Castellanos said he’s been dancing since he was seven years old, but this is his first “Alice in Wonderland.” It’s also a first for Drozd, who said it’s a mixture of the familiar and unusual.

“Some of the partnering stuff” is among the notable challenges, she said. “It’s more like classical ballet so it is familiar. But every dance is slightly different. I’ve never done this version before, so doing some of the new lifts and also just finding some of the nuance with your partner to make it look smooth and polished takes a lot of work and time.”

Among the production’s complexities are, in addition to a mix of serious and surreal scenes and movements, many of the students perform multiple roles and thus have to make quick changes into elaborate costumes and in their character mindset, Hench said. In some cases multiple people play a single character, including three making appearances as Alice (as a miniature and giant, in addition to Gornik’s “normal” character) and various students who comprise the caterpillar.

“We’re a decent-sized school, but we’re not a huge school,” he said. “So we do have multiple dancers playing multiple roles. And we’ve had a few injuries, so that’s very challenging. A few of our top-level dancers have injuries and cannot perform. So when that happens that’s a trickle-down effect.”

“And it’s very challenging to get everybody in multiple roles and make sure they have time to change their costumes. it’s quite the puzzle to work out, especially when you start to lose some people due to injury, to really try and fill in those holes is a huge challenge. I’d say that’s probably the biggest challenge.”

Sabine Auger takes flight as the duck during a rehearsal of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sabine Auger takes flight as the duck during a rehearsal of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Beyond the larger number of dancers are the stage sets, costumes and other complexities of production, Hench said.

“It’d be safe to guess it’s probably the most elaborate production Juneau Dance Theatre has done as far as from the production standpoint of things,” he said. “There’s three different backdrops, numerous props, projections…we rented (costumes) from the school in Des Moines.”

Hench estimates about 20 people are part of the stage crew doing various instruction and work behind the scenes.

The debut show is scheduled at 7 p.m. Friday at the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium, with a second evening show at the same time Saturday. Two afternoon shows are scheduled at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with a “Mad Hatter Tea Party” for each starting at 1 p.m. that includes games and other activities before the show, a formal tea at intermission, and a stage photo with the cast after the end of the show.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Know and Go

What: “Alice in Wonderland” story ballet, performed by Juneau Dance Theatre.

When: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium.

Tickets: $15-$30 ($45 for Mad Hatter Tea Party that starts at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).

Website: https://juneaudance.org.

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