Bright costumes, stunning sets and whimsical music create the canvas on which ballet dancers paint their story. Each detail must be well thought out and perfected in order to engage the audience as pirouettes and piques provide a visual story-telling experience. At Brigham Young University, students had the opportunity to design and create a full length ballet, Alice in Wonderland, with the mentoring help of faculty and staff.


Artistic director Shani Robison©2016 Nathalie van Empel

Three years ago, Shani Robison approached Elise Meiners and Charis Dexter about choreographing a full-length ballet. For Meiners, Alice in Wonderland has been one of her favorite stories since she was young so when the opportunity arose, she could not pass it up.

In the beginning stages of the creative process behind Alice in Wonderland, the choreographers read the book and narrowed down which characters they wanted to have in their production.

“Alice in Wonderland has such a wealth of characters; an early challenge was choosing which characters and parts of the story to keep,” Meiners said. “Charis and I analyzed the characters for costuming, and we found movement to characterize each of them. Much of the choreography was inspired or colored by our early studies of movement.”

After developing the characters, the choreographers worked to create full scenes and then rehearsed with temporary props in the studio. As choreographers, they had to brainstorm ways of showing the fantastical things that happen to Alice throughout the story, like growing and shrinking.

Some of the challenges they faced was creating transitions between the scenes because Alice travels to drastically different places and it is difficult to convey those changes smoothly. For Meiners, however, the most rewarding part was seeing it all come together.

“Charis and I had a lot of fun developing the characters and playing in the studio, but it became real for us when we saw the dancers embody what we had imagined and developed together,” Meiners said.

Meiners hopes to choreograph and design scenery and costumes for ballets in her future career.

“It was great for me to collaborate and learn more about every aspect of the production,” she said. “I’m so grateful for such a wonderful experience to begin my career by working on a story that I love.”


The makeup design process began over a year ago with a class devoted entirely to the production of Alice in Wonderland. In this class, the students also read the original book by Lewis Carroll and analyzed each chapter to determine the hair and makeup design. Since the ballet does not have a script, the students had to draw inspiration from the book and the chosen music. One of these students, Celia Rivera, recalls spending one class simply listening to the music for the production.

“As we listened to a track we would use markers and pastels to draw how we felt when listening to the music,” Rivera said. “There were variations in color and shapes which helped us as designers to understand the music better.”

Not only did the students have to determine the makeup design, but they had to find products that would withstand dancing and the sweat that follows. The designers wanted the characters to have stylized and extreme looks, but  the makeup needed to last the entire production.

Fish mask
©2016 Nathalie van Empel
©2016 Nathalie van Empel

“It took weeks of researching and testing to finally determine the best makeup products to use on our very active cast,” Rivera said.

Once they figured out the perfect combination, the most rewarding part was seeing the dancers’ reactions to their creation, she said. This production allowed her to work with other students and learn about wig styling, makeup products and prosthetics.

“I am so thankful I have been able to work with such an amazing team and continue to develop our talents together,” she said.

©2016 Nathalie van Empel

Sound Design

BYU Senior Jackie Barrett had the unique opportunity to work on the sound effects, something most ballet productions do not have.  She found inspiration in the playfulness and magic that the story conveys in wonderland.

“I really wanted the characters onstage to come to life and be those magical characters [we read about],” Barrett said.

The challenge she faced was figuring out how a ballet could incorporate sound effects, and then collaborating with the choreographers to make it happen. She had to rely on her imagination and knowledge of the story.

“Since there is not an actual script to this production, besides the book, I feel like I’ve had free reign to have fun and let my imagination go,” she said.

Alice with paintbrush
©2016 Nathalie van Empel

Tickets for Alice in Wonderland are available online for January 28-30.

The production is sure to excite audiences and leave them with a sense of wonder and adventure.
“It is a unique ballet, due to the variety of Wonderland, so everyone is likely to find something they love,” Meiners said.

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  • Kayla Bagshaw

    I absolutely LOVED Alice in Winderland. I thought it was the most unique ballet production I had ever seen. I had NO IDEA the amount of work, dedication, commitment and time devoted to making this production what it is. The costuming, make up, props and scenery was all so creative and detailed. I appreciated this ballet more than I have ever have with any other ballet. Thank you to all who were a part of it!

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