In "Wonderland," the USC Department of Theatre and Dance combines bold, colorful designs and playful, personalized dances to bring new life to a well-known trip down the rabbit hole.
"Wonderland" is a dance theatre performance, running from Feb. 9 through Feb. 11 at the Drayton Hall Theatre, that is based on the familiar story of "Alice In Wonderland" with original choreography by Jennifer Deckert, an associate professor of dance. While it features many dancers and their talents, it also showcases the work of three theatre design graduate students.
While the performance draws inspiration from "Alice in Wonderland," it is far from the Disney version. Deckert wanted to explore the deeper aspects of the story, questioning how the characters reflect Alice's intrapersonal doubts.
“I dive into Alice's psyche and explore, 'What is she thinking as she's going through this journey?'” Deckert said. “I started thinking about all of those voices that are in our heads that are telling us that we're not good enough.”
The collaboration between both aspects of the theatre and dance department was crucial to the formation of the performance. Deckert said the department as a whole wanted to find a project that would combine the strengths of both programs. Last June, after she suggested an "Alice In Wonderland" adaptation to the chair of the department, the crew began the months-long journey of designing and choreographing the story.
“My movement vocabulary is very much influenced by the designers, so I wanted to get those conversations started before I dove into the choreographic process,” Deckert said.
Andrew Burns, a second-year masters student studying costume design, began working on the show midway through 2022 as his larger design project for the year. His process started with reading "Alice in Wonderland," then working with Deckert to identify some core points of inspiration, including the world around him.
“When I began my design process, it was over the summer, and I was in Aspen, Colorado. I was surrounded by nature, so it was really the best jumping point.” Burns said.
In his design statement, he outlined three concepts he wanted to follow: more maturity, a focus on nature and dream-like qualities. He then began designing the full costumes for Alice, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter with accents like floral skirts and bird masks for the ensemble.
This past September, Lorna Young, a second-year masters of fine arts student studying lighting design, began her work as the show’s lighting designer. Similar to Burns, her process involved discussing ideas with Deckert. She felt a personal connection to the story of Alice discovering more about herself and developing from her adventures in Wonderland. Young also highlighted the collaborative nature of the department, including the way that Burns, Young and scenic designer Ashley Jenson all worked to support each others ideas.
“The biggest thing is that lighting is not about you. It's about promoting the story, and how can I best put the audience into what the character is going through,” Young said.
In November, the dancers began rehearsing, using their skills to accentuate Deckert’s choreography. Katarina Kendall, a second-year dance performance and choreography and business economics student, plays the Queen of Hearts. She was excited about the opportunity to perform in a show with original choreography and the freedom to make the character her own, including looking into what insecurities the Queen of Hearts may be hiding.
“I remember Jennifer (Deckert) telling me that the Queen has this façade, that she thinks she's the best, that she's very confident in herself, and she has this power over everyone. But deep down, she's a very insecure person.” Kendall said.
Collaboration between the entire cast and crew, from designers to dancers, has allowed for more experimentation and depth in creating "Wonderland."
“Yes, I get to do a little flash and trash, make it look pretty, but it's just promoting the story, and I get to create the world.” Young said.
For Deckert, the opportunity to choreograph the production was joyful. She felt that seeing everyone's work come together was the highlight of the experience.
“It's so humbling as an artist to be surrounded by students who are so driven and so open and willing to be a part of the process. And that's been such a blessing to be able to not be alone in the creative process.” Deckert said.