Jillian Vanstone and Artists of the Ballet in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Illustration by Stephanie Anne.

These Illustrations of the Alice in Wonderland Ballet Will Fill You With Whimsy

New technology is bringing the classic tale to life on small screens and big stages.

For over 150 years, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has inspired artists across mediums, from the bestselling YA book series Alice in Zombieland to Marilyn Mason’s abandoned film project Phantasmagoria. Right now, Alice is a ballerina, with the beloved story being performed by the National Ballet of Canada with Principal Dancer Jillian Vanstone—who danced the title role in the North American premiere in 2011—again heading down the rabbit hole. “She has spunk, she has wonder, she has charm,” says Vanstone of the character, “that’s why it’s so easy for people to fall in love with her. It’s a children’s story, but underneath that, there’s something people of all ages can relate to.”

Vanstone’s graceful interpretation of Alice has been captured in a series of illustrations by artist Stephanie Anne McKay, who used technology to create a collection of colourful, inspired works. “Drawing with the iPad and Apple Pencil allows me to experiment more than traditional mediums,” says McKay, “as I can quickly alter compositions and colour choices. The line work and abstract paint elements I incorporate into the pieces are quite intentional,” she continues, explaining how she illustrated something as dynamic as a ballet production, “I use them to add gesture and movement to the pieces, allowing the viewer to feel what could have happened just before and what may happen right after.”

Advancements in technology have allowed for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to be brought to life on an iPad, but they’ve also helped to tell her story on stage: “In the past, I think it would have been somewhat difficult to create a believable stage production of Alice in Wonderland,” says Vanstone. “Now, we have more innovative stagecraft that allows things like falling down the rabbit hole or growing and shrinking to look real. As a ballet experience, it’s unique in the way that it melds the great big production we usually associate with Broadway shows to classical ballet technique.”

The world has seen some change since Alice was first introduced in 1865, and yet, her adventure to Wonderland continues to be a fantasy that creatives are drawn to. “There’s so many sources to draw from and ways to interpret the story that while a classic, it’s both timeless and an endless source of inspiration,” McKay says of the novel’s enduring appeal. The only question now: where will Alice travel to next?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is being performed by the National Ballet of Canada from March 7 to 17. You can purchase tickets to the performance here.