Alice In Wonderland, New Theatre, Oxford <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Derek Deane's Alice in Wonderland is a canny production. Turning Lewis Carroll's story into a ballet, he gives audiences a known name and characters, with delightful designs by Sue Blane. But he's also careful to display his dancers' technique. Many Christmas ballets have almost no real dancing, but Deane's gives English National Ballet plenty to get their teeth into.

This adaptation, new in 1995, is a series of scenes drawn from Carroll's story. Alice follows the White Rabbit, meets the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess and the Queen of Hearts. It makes an episodic ballet - as with The Nutcracker, we see a young heroine moving from set piece to set piece. And, like many Nutcracker productions, Deane even gives his child star a grown-up pas de deux, when a Dream Alice is partnered by the Knave of Hearts.

Carl Davis stitched together a series of Tchaikovsky pieces to create the score, with material from the orchestral suites, symphonies, and even spare Sleeping Beauty material. He doesn't pull his patchwork into a coherent whole, but it's tuneful, and Timothy Carey conducts a lively performance by the ENB Orchestra.

The staging is quick and inventive. Deane and Blane use drop curtains to keep the action moving, with mistily atmospheric riverbanks, seashores, forests. Blane's main sets mix painting and three-dimensional detail.

The Mad Hatter's tea party has a cottage-garden backdrop, mixing naturalistic scenery with white doily flowers. In an illusion by Paul Kieve, the giant teapot pours silk tea into the cups. The Duchess lives in a doll's house, which unfolds to reveal its kitchen.

Blane's costumes are firmly based on Tenniel's illustrations - Alice with her apron and hairband, the drag Duchess with latex jowls. In many cases, this does the work of characterisation: the Mad Hatter's strongest feature is his outsize top hat. But the costumes don't smother the dancers - even dodos have room to move and show clean, fast footwork. As the Mock Turtle, James Forbat wears a mask and turtle shell, but his dancing is still expressive, with drooping poses and melancholy head-tilts.

Deane's neat, lively choreography uses conventional steps. His best work is a corps scene at the Queen of Hearts' garden party, in which he arranges the dancers, in playing-card tutus, into crisp lines and avenues. Pairs of dancers stand with palms together, making croquet hoops. The Dream duet is bland, though Dmitri Gruzdyev and Daria Klimentova dance it cleanly.

Maria Kochetkova is a decisive, sparky Alice, reacting vividly to the scenes about her. Her dancing is quick and crisp, with buoyant jumps. Sarah McIlroy makes a dashing Queen of Hearts, while Yat-Sen Chang scampers brightly as the White Rabbit. The company give a vivacious performance.

To Sunday (08701 602 832); transfers to the Coliseum, London WC1 (08701 450 200), 28 December to 7 January

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