The Story of Alice in Wonderland

falling cards for website

Next weekend, October 15 and 16, California Ballet Company will be performing our ballet adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, Alice in Wonderland, alongside Wayne Davis’ classically beautiful Souvenir. The zaniness of Lewis Carroll’s timeless characters will fill the stage at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts for three performances.

Since some of you will be coming to see the show, we thought it might be fun to take a quick look at the history of Alice in Wonderland, the man who wrote the book, and the creation of Charles Bennett’s dance adaptation.

Most people are probably familiar with the Disney cartoon of Alice in Wonderland, first released in 1951. The original tale, however is a little less than 100 years older than that. Anyone who knows a little about the story knows that it was written by an incredibly clever Englishman by the name of Lewis Carroll.

LewisCarrollLewis Carroll

But did you know that it isn’t his real name?

Nope, Lewis Carroll was the nom de plume of Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Charles Dodgson (for the sake of avoiding confusion, we’ll refer to him by the better known name of Lewis Carroll) was born on January 27, 1832. He was an incredibly bright boy who began his early education being homeschooled by his father. From age 14 to seventeen, Carroll attended school at Rugby for the American equivalent of High School. Suffering from a stammer, intense shyness, and the stigma that inevitably follows misunderstood genius, the years he attended Rugby were very unhappy ones.

Rugby School

Rugby School – Birthplace of the Rugby sport

“I cannot say . . . that any earthly considerations would induce me to go through my three years again . . . I can honestly say that if I could have been . . . secure from annoyance at night, the hardships of the daily life would have been comparative trifles to bear.” – Lewis Carroll

Although he was unhappy at school, his burgeoning intellect was difficult to miss. Right away, his professors recognized how smart he was, especially where mathematics were concerned.

That’s right, Lewis Carroll was a celebrated mathematician long before he changed the face of children’s stories! His library of mathematical treatises is far bigger than his library of fiction and poetry.

After Carroll finished his education at Rugby, he was accepted at Oxford University, Christ Church College in 1850. Four years later, he graduated, and received a lectureship in Mathematics.

ChristChurchOxford Christ Church College, Oxford University

What’s that? The author of Alice in Wonderland worked as a math teacher? That’s crazy, isn’t it? Well, not as crazy as you’d think, and we’ll get to that in a little bit.

Carroll’s appointment as a math professor at Christ Church College (remember, Christ Church is a part of Oxford University – only one of the finest institutions in the world!) was a permanent position. Not only did it recognize his intellectual superiority, but it offered him financial stability. However, as is often the case with such great minds, he quickly became bored with the job.

In 1856, Carroll took up the, then new, art form of photography. When George Liddell, the new Dean of Christ Church, arrived, Carroll asked for permission to use the college gardens for a photo shoot. He was granted permission, and went about setting up his equipment. While doing so, he was approached by the Dean’s three daughters: Lorna, Edith, and Alice Liddell.


Did you catch that? Yup, Alice Liddell. It is widely accepted that Lewis Carroll’s heroine is based loosely on George Liddell’s second oldest daughter, Alice.


Well, Carroll and the three girls hit it off right away, and spent a lot of time hanging out over the next few years. It wasn’t until 1862 that the momentous occasion happened. On July 4th, Carroll took the girls on a boating trip, along with his friend Rev. Robinson Duckworth. In an effort to entertain the girls during the trip, Carroll started inventing a story about a young girl who, by an act of serendipity, happened to be named Alice. Little Alice followed a white rabbit down a rabbit hole and had a very strange adventure.

Well, you know the rest.

AliceUndergroundThe girls loved it! Who wouldn’t? Alice Liddell begged Carroll to write the story down for her, and he eventually did. He called the original manuscript Alice’s Adventures Underground, which he gave to little Alice Liddell . . . but not before letting another friend take a look at it.

That manuscript, but the way, was later sold by a 76-year old Alice Liddell  in 1928. It was auctioned off at Sotheby’s auction house to an American collector for 15,400 English Pounds!

Carroll’s friend, George MacDonald, had the pleasure of reading the finished manuscript first. He even read it to his children, and they all loved it! Encouraged by this, Carroll decided to submit the story for publication, had it illustrated by the famous illustrator John Tenniel, and changed the name toAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Yes, that’s the real name of the book. Most people condense it to Alice in Wonderland, and California Ballet is guilty of this, too.

Now, you must understand that Charles Dodgson was a well known and widely respected mathematician, lecturer, and authority. He did not want his scholastic persona to become known for writing children’s stories. So, he used a different name when he published Alice. He took the name Lewis Carroll. It’s just plain ironic that his name of whimsy is better known than his given name.

The story of Alice in Wonderland has several Oxford locales hidden with its text, as well as a lot of political satire, childish whimsy, and reasonably sound logic. This is why we said that Carroll’s history as a mathematician wasn’t as strange as it sounded. His familiarity with math and logic can be seen all over Alice in Wonderland, if you know what to look for. There are many cases of argumentative logic in the story, such as the following dialogue between the Mad Hatter and Alice:


March Hare: “Then you should say what you mean!”

Alice: “I do, at least, I mean what I say. That’s the same thing, you know.”

Mad Hatter: “Not the same thing a bit! You might just as well say, ‘I see what I eat,’ is the same thing as, ‘I eat what I see.’

It seems funny, even nonsensical, but there is an undeniably flawless logic in his discourse. Logic that comes from the point of view of a mathematician.

Well, Carroll’s story was a smash hit! The original printing was only 2,000 books, all of which swiftly sold out. In the following years, many editions were published. Today, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the most widely translated work of English literature, second after Shakespeare.


Carroll eventually went on to write a sequel to his hit novel, titledAlice Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Published in 1871, it was a much darker novel. It reflected a time in Carroll’s life during which he was suffering from deep depression. His father had passed away, he was unhappy in his position at Oxford, and he was just plain in a funk. Nonetheless, Through the Looking Glass was met once again with critical acclaim, and Carroll’s name became a household name the world around!

Charles Dodgson, A.K.A. Lewis Carroll, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly of pneumonia in 1898 at the age of 65. He was two weeks away from his 66th birthday. He now rests at Mount Cemetery in Guildford, Surrey, England.


Throughout the near century and a half since Carroll’s death, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been through many, many, many iterations. It has been seen as television shows, feature length films, animated movies, video games, audio books, radio adaptations, theatre adaptations, dance adaptations – the list goes on and on. Carroll’s nonsensical whimsy has stolen the hearts of countless generations, and California Ballet Company jumped on the bandwagon in 1995!

Since it’s seminal performance in 1968, California Ballet excels at two things: presenting professional quality dance productions, and producing family friendly story ballets. When AliceFlier001Director Maxine Mahon approached Associate Choreographer, and longtime friend, Charles Bennett in the mid 1990’s about creating a series of children’s ballets, he was not only amenable, he was excited! Mr. Bennett had already created a student version of an Alice in Wonderland ballet, and he was chomping at the bit to expand it, and bring up to a professional level.


Tweedles and Alice reheasing in 1995
(Charles Bennet is in the corner of the picture.)

In early spring of 1995, rehearsals began at the California Ballet studios for a new, professional production of a one-hour Alice in Wonderland. California Ballet Company would become the first professional ballet company to perform the new work. Mr. Bennett’s choreography, set to an eclectic score of music assembled by the choreographer himself, was only the beginning. Charles Bennett had long been a fan of multimedia performances, and decided the break the balletic mold. He incorporated spoken dialogue within the performance. He also abandoned traditionally painted backdrops in favor of slide projections, many of which were the original Tenniel illustrations from the book.

The result: an original dance experience that captivated, entertained, and entranced audiences at the East County Performin_BSC0665_HatterHareg Arts Center on May 19-21, 1995. While largely condensed (as theater often is) the ballet captured the essence of Carroll’s nonsensical world, without losing an ounce of the story. From the White Rabbit to the Mad Hatter, from the Tweedles to the Queen of Hearts, Carroll’s larger than life characters were presented in their full, whimsical glory.

Since 1995_BSC0247_AliceRabbit, the production has been on different stages a handful of times. From the East County Performing Arts Center to the Balboa theater downtown, Charles Bennett’s Alice in Wonderland continues to be a family favorite. This year the role of Alice, originated by CBC Prima Ballerina, emeritus Denise Dabrowski, will be danced by Company Soloist Rebecca Correia. Her White Rabbit will be played by Soloist Hugo Carreon, and the rest of the lovable characters will be fleshed out by the phenomenally talented California Ballet corps de ballet.

As mentioned, also on the program will be Wayne Davis’ gracefully gorgeous Souvenir. Set to Tchaikovsky’s luscious Souvenir de Florence, you will be given a chance to watch CBC Principal dancers showcase their talent and skill, while they are framed by the grace and beauty of the California Ballet Company’s corps de ballet women.

Tickets are going fast, so make sure to buy yours today. The performance is this weekend, so there is no time to lose!

We’ll see you at the ballet!

Scatter 2

Alice in Wonderland

October 15, 2011 at 2:30pm

October 16, 2011 at 1:00pm and 5:30pm

Ticket Prices: $25-$60; children $25 in most sections

For more information or to purchase tickets, call 858-560-6741 or CLICK HERE!

**Reference material for Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland:;;;


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