Alice leads a new season at the Royal Ballet | Judith Mackrell

Christopher Wheeldon's Alice in Wonderland joins a flurry of fresh works for next season's programme, which also includes classics from Ashton and Balanchine

Christopher Wheeldon may have walked away from his own company, but he's going to be very busy at the Royal Ballet. As next season's details reveal, the choreographer's full-length Alice's Adventures in Wonderland will be premiered by the company in February 2011.
Personally, the idea of a new Alice ballet doesn't make my heart race. All the other dancing Cheshire Cats and White Rabbits I've seen have been Disney-twee, and Wheeldon is unlikely to follow Tim Burton into a goth alternative. But he's a clever choreographer and he's chosen some sophisticated collaborators in composer Joby Talbot and designer Bob Crowley. And, given that new full-length ballets are such a rarity in this company, you have to want it to succeed.
Full-length ballets may be costly, but cheeringly there's enough money in the 2010–11 pot left over for a decent quota of new work. There's one from Kim Brandstrup (fast forming a relationship with the Royal, what with Rushes, Goldberg and his contribution to the Ashton programme) as well as a new Wayne McGregor. Plus, there's a company premiere for Balanchine's scintillating Ballo della Regina – while on the Linbury stage, Will Tuckett and Aletta Collins are both showing new productions.  
It's a good season, even if it holds few surprises. The biggest thrill for me is seeing Frederick Ashton's Scènes de Ballet back in the Royal's programme after years of neglect. It's a work you can see 100 times without figuring out how it achieves its mysterious formal power.

Ashton fans do well all round, in fact, with revivals of Rhapsody, Sylvia and La Valse, as well as Christmas performances of Cinderella and Les Patineurs (this is going to be a Nutcracker-free year).

After all the 80th-birthday revivals, the Kenneth MacMillan repertory takes a back seat, with just Manon, Winter Dreams and The Rite of Spring in the programme. Amazingly, this will make it a year without performances of Romeo and Juliet, but there are other box-office staples to replace it – Swan Lake, Giselle and Cranko's overrated but dancer-friendly Onegin.

The final mix is one that perfectly fulfils the Royal's remit in its balance of classics, heritage ballets and new works. But it's worth pointing out the buzz that other companies strive for. Over at New York City Ballet, they are showing no less than seven world premieres in the period between May and June. A whole different scale of ambition.


Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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