It’s Alice in Wonderland … but not … quite … as you know it! Melbourne City Ballet will present this enchanting not-to-be-missed production (with a completely Aussie spin) at multiple venues around the New England and further afield on their huge tour. We were able to chat with the Mad Hatter for a few minutes between performances … Meet Tristan Gross, who explains just how much fun it is to dance on the beach – with teabags!
Hi Tristan. Please share a little of your career background, and explain how you became involved with the Melbourne City Ballet.
I was introduced to Melbourne City Ballet around when it first started, back in 2014 – I went and did a few classes there while I was still training. Between then and now, I did an apprenticeship with the West Australian Ballet, and I went to work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
I’m back in Melbourne now, and I messaged Michael Pappalardo [Artistic Director] and asked if I could come and work for him. So, here I am now!
What do you most enjoy about being a part of the Alice in Wonderland production?
I enjoy the humour – there are a lot of little quirky bits in this production, which make it enjoyable to perform. This ballet is for kids to enjoy – but there’s a lot of humour and jokes which I find quite funny too!
How much fun is it to play the “Mad Hatter” – and what do you appreciate most about this character?
The Mad Hatter has his own little “thing” going on … I can be dancing, and then I might find something on one of the props and go, “Ohhhh … I really like this!” I can actually take this character and interpret him differently every time, which is always good fun!
There’s so much room to build on this character … I mean, the Hatter is mad! I feel like I need to change my performance each time, otherwise it could all get a bit stale. It always keeps things interesting and new!
This must be a bit of a laugh for the other performers at times too?
(Laughs.) Yes! I may suddenly pop up behind one of them, with a “Helllooo!” and they’ll have a bit of a jump fright and wonder where on Earth I came from!
How technically difficult is your role to dance in this production?
I think it’s difficult, because even though I’m having to goof around – it’s still ballet, with its patterns and correct technique, being conscious of your hands and feet … whilst trying to be silly! That’s actually quite challenging sometimes.
The costumes look fabulous. What are yours like to wear and perform in?
The opening costume is quite easy; it’s rather traditional, with a shirt, tie and vest … but when I have to put on what almost looks like a ‘20s swimsuit, it really changes everything!
The hat really gets me (laughs). It’s a normal wide-brimmed hat, but because this production is set in Australia on the beach, we’ve done a take on the cork hat. But, instead of corks, there are teabags! They always make me laugh, because there’s so much I can do with them. I can make a cup of tea with my hat! But those teabags flying around … they sometimes hit me in the face! It’s all fun though.
How closely does the story line for this production resemble Lewis Carroll’s original book?
The production starts as the normal “Alice” story, with a garden party and everyone having a dance and a picnic, Alice sees the white rabbit, goes down the rabbit hole, there’s the doorway scene … but instead of finding gloves and a fan, she finds a pair of sunnies! This leads her on to the beach.
Once at the beach, it becomes very different. We wanted to keep this a shorter ballet for the kids, as longer productions can become a bit tiresome for the younger ones – so there are a few characters we don’t have due to time constraints – like the Caterpillar.
At the beach, instead of flowers we have synchronised swimmers, and the knave (who’s actually a lifeguard) has to come and save Alice from a rip in the water.
It’s very comical and quirky, and a whole lot of fun.
We’ve managed to keep the essence of the story, though – just minus a few characters. The moral of the story is very much the same – just told a different way!
“Alice” will be travelling to both Armidale and Tamworth over the next month or two. How familiar are you with the New England area?
Not particularly, but I believe I do have relatives in Armidale and Tamworth … which, I just happened to find out when I mentioned to my mum I’d be touring in these places (laughs).
It’s certainly going to be a big change for us to visit up there, as last week we were in Townsville!
Yes, I think you’d better pack some winter woollies! Why would you encourage New England locals to come and see the performances?
It’s just a lot of fun … it’s for kids and adults alike – everyone laughs and enjoys it. People are allowed to laugh at this production. On stage we’ve heard a few in the audience say, “Shhhh … don’t laugh!” But, we want everyone to laugh – it’s supposed to be funny!
It’s also an opportunity to get out, experience the arts, and there’s always that idea that when you go to the ballet, you have the chance to dress up, enjoy a meal before or after the show; it’s always nice to make a proper night of it!
Interview: Jo Robinson.
Alice in Wonderland will be performed at
various venues around the New England. Please contact the relevant venues, or visit www.melbournecityballet.com.au
TAS Hoskins Armidale 28th June, 7:30pm
Inverell Town Hall, Inverell 5th July, 7:30pm
Civic Hall, Gunnedah 6th July, 7:30pm
The Capitol Theatre, Tamworth 7th July, 2pm
The Crossing Theatre, Narrabri 10th July, 7:30pm
School of Arts, Tenterfield 12th July, 7:30pm
The Chapel Theatre, Glen Innes 13th July, 1:30 and 7:30pm