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The Starr Foster Dance Project falls through the rabbit hole.

Fairy Tale Turns

After a short boat ride with three of his nieces, the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a British mathematician and logician, sought out shade under a tree in a meadow. One of the nieces, Alice Liddell, pled with her uncle to tell a story. He did, and the girls enjoyed the story so much, Alice urged him to write it down.

"Many a fairy tale had been extemporized for their benefit," Dodgson once said in a newspaper interview, "yet none of these tales got written down: They lived and died, like summer midges, each in its own golden afternoon until there came a day when, as it chanced, one of the listeners petitioned that the tale might be written down for her."

The words he finally wrote down, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, became the classic, "Alice in Wonderland." The illustrated book has been reissued numerous times and retold in numerous versions, including animated movies and theater. Starr Foster Dance Project has grabbed hold of this whimsical tale for yet another incarnation, transforming it into a full-length modern dance called "Alice."

"I've been wanting to do this story for a long time," says Starr Foster, artistic director and choreographer, "but I hesitated because so many other companies have done this work. It's such a bizarre story, I really wanted to do it." What clinched the decision was discussing her ideas with two members of One Ring Zero, the ex-Richmond band now based in New York. They not only supported her idea, but agreed to create its musical score.

To ensure capturing such flamboyant characters as the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, Foster abandoned her usual practice of designing and sewing all the costumes herself, a practice born largely out of financial necessity. "I'm not good enough," she says. "I would have taken the easy way out. It would have given me a headache. I wouldn't have been very bold."

So Foster asked Karl Green to design the costumes, because of his background in fashion and dance. Though a great fan of Foster's work, Green didn't immediately agree. "I'm very selective about what work I take on," Green says. "But we talked. … I went from no to being excited in 10 seconds." One inspired half-hour later, he had completed sketches for all the costumes. With the last needle put away, he says of the colorful cartoonlike costumes, "I have done things with fabric like I've never done before."

With the combination of zippy music by One Ring Zero, Green's bold costumes, and Starr's tightly woven choreography, "Alice" readily recalls the zaniness of Carroll's imaginative tale. This fast-paced version of the pinafored Alice, played by Katie Karris, enchants as much as the original story. With William Sterling as the White Rabbit, Kendall Baltimore as the Queen, and Matt Rogers as the Mad Hatter, in an animated cast of 12, this fall through the rabbit hole offers a delightful romp.

Starr Foster Dance Project will perform "Alice" at the Grace Street Theatre Feb. 28-March 2, 8 p.m. 343-3612.

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