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Mad about dance…and tea

by Lenise Willis

Photo Courtesy of Winston-Salem Festival Ballet
Alice, The Mad Hatter, and other characters from Winston-Salem Festival Ballet’s Fairy Tale Series are throwing a tea party and dance in the gardens of Kernersville.

After following an untimely mammal literally down the rabbit hole, floating down a river of tears and speaking with a grinning Cheshire Cat, Alice finds herself in a beautiful garden surrounded by the madness of Wonderland. Just as Alice twisted and turned her way through a magical place, little ones will have the same chance to discover wonder and merriment at the Paul J. Ciener Botanical Gardens in Kernersville during Winston-Salem Festival Ballet’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

“The garden is an extraordinary work of art,” said Rita Taylor, artistic director of WSFB. “There are hidden treasures waiting at every turn. Much like the characters from Alice in Wonderland, surprises wait in every nook and cranny. There is a colorful cast of characters that offer the perfect complement to the garden grounds. The gardens, with all their beauty and charm, are the perfect place for the magical story to be told.”

Thanks to the Innovative Project Grant from the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, the dance group will be utilizing the unique space to bring some of the characters from its annual Fairy Tale Series to the grounds for an interactive experience for little ones.

The cast of characters from Alice and Wonderland will be on hand to meet and greet, sign autographs and play a game of croquet with giant balls and wickets and, of course, flamingo croquet mallets. The infamous and quirky Mad Hatter will be serving tea and cookies to all the guests, while Tweedledee and Tweedledum will be playing with the guests on the lawn with giant balls and hula-hoops. And Alice herself will be performing a very special dance.

WSFB chose Alice and her peculiar friends as the theme because of their light and whimsical nature, not to mention that just last year was the 150th anniversary of the book.

“It’s sure to be a fun filled morning as the children meet Alice, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, Tweedledee and Tweedledum and, of course, the Cheshire Cat,” Rita said. “The Paul Ciener Botannical Gardens provided a perfect backdrop for us to utilize the beauty and artistry of a garden with the clever and timeless classic Alice and Wonderland. The gardens are both magical and other worldly. The space can truly host the antics of this wonderful story.”

Using the gardens in place of a stage is inspired by the larger project by Found Space Theatre, founded last year by Stephanie Lindley, in order to “bring strong theatre pieces to every corner of our greater community in the Triad and region.” The theatre’s mission is to take the story away from the traditional stage and embed it within the community, using neighborhood spaces and the surrounding people and environments to help tell the story. It’s all part of the greater goal to create a better sense of community.

Winston-Salem Festival Ballet is following their lead with their tea party in the gardens nestled in historic downtown Kernersville.

“Since art comes out of a community, it only makes sense to place it back in that same context,” said Gary Taylor, WSFB choreographer, of his location choice, “We hope to inspire these kids to enjoy dance not only as art, but as a means of community expression.”

“It’s important for artists to think outside the box,” Rita added, “to challenge the perimeters of the spaces we work in. Art can be found in usual places, such as a theater or gallery, or art can be found in unusual places such as a garden.

“The more we engage our community and surrounding areas, the more we provide an opportunity for the arts to grow and flourish,” Rita added. “We have a responsibility to reinvent ourselves as it relates to the product. We must continue to reach out and grow an audience base that is inclusive to all. When we look beyond the normal, sometimes we are delighted and surprised by that which is unexpected.” !

LENISE WILLIS, a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s journalism school, has experience in acting and ballet, and has been covering live performances since 2010.


Winston-Salem Festival Ballet’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party will be at the Paul J. Ciener Botanical Gardens, 215 S. Main St., Kernersville, next Saturday, September 17, from 10:30 a.m.-noon. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information visit or call 336-747-1414.