Follow Alice to explore your playful otherworldly self

Who wouldn’t follow Alice down the rabbit hole?


She’s following adventure.

She’s leaving behind her sterile, affluent, predictable world and putting herself in the hands of the White Rabbit — who is late for an “important” date. Once in that world, she is looking for a way home. She is, in Daniel Janke’s words, “the archetypal hero”.

“They’re going to remake Alice every 20 years or so,” he says when I bring up Tim Burton’s new film, Alice in Wonderland, debuting this month. “She’s fascinating to watch. She never gives in.”

Film vignettes from Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s story adapted by Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, encompasses about half of the multimedia program, Alice and Other Heroes.

He’d seen the film in the 80s, and recently returned from the Czech Republic where they were doing a retrospective of the animator’s work. He was struck by the film again and asked for permission from Svankmajer to score the film.

“We’re helping tell her story.”

The film, he explains, already has a wonderful soundscape, just no music. In the tradition of the silent film era — and beyond — Janke brought together eight musicians, the Longest Night Ensemble, to score Alice’s wonderland journey in front of a live audience.

“It’s kind of a devil’s pit orchestra” composed of Yukon and Vancouver-based musicians, Janke says.

The production was developed by the Longest Night Society, in partnership with Northern Town Films, and we get to see the premiere at Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse, Thursday, March 11.

Alice will then be presented at Performance Works in Vancouver as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, March 17 and 18, during the Paralympic Games.

“We like Alice because we think — no little girl could ever do all of that — but she does. Alice is proactive in her own survival. She chases after the White Rabbit believing he can get her out, since, obviously, he got her in.”

For Janke, Alice is all about the individual who distinguishes him or herself through purposefully adapting and dealing with whatever life gives, or takes away. It is this everyday notion of heroism that he is concerned with, rather than the monumental, which makes this a fitting tribute to the athletes involved in the Paralympics.

And Alice, in this version, has a lot more to adapt to and fight through. The White Rabbit, here, is a bit more insidious.

The program includes two other film shorts set to a live musical score.Drift is a beautiful stop-action animated film by artist Veronica Verkley, from Toronto and now living in Dawson, about a man adrift on a boat, and his quest for companionship and survival.

Legault’s Place is an NFB film from the 60s featuring the cinematography of famous NFB camera man John Spottan, about a man cut off from a city that is growing around him.

The music is meant to be playful, the evening fun. “It’s a little like a film festival, but with a live band.”

Musical scores, Janke says, can tell you how to feel in a movie. Ideally, they should be like a simultaneous performance. “Those are the best scores for film — the ones that push into the film when they need to, and then pull back.”

They can be done badly. “Oh, you can get some real schmaltzy Hollywood.” They’re the ones, he says, that push you to feel emotions that the script doesn’t really convey.

Ultimately, it should be an interaction. For Alice and Other Heroes, he just enjoyed playing with the film. It invited him to explore his “playful, otherworldly self”.

The audience gets to do that, too. But then he laughs.

“Oh, really, it’s a rock and roll show — you just jump on for a ride.”

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