REVIEW: WIZARD OF OZ with Colorado Ballet

by Taylor Jo Oxley

My relationship with ballet has always been a love/hate one. I grew up loving my years in ballet class, barely able to contain myself when our tutus arrived for recital. As I grew older and was able to move into advanced classes, I hated the amount of pain my long second toe put me in every time I stood on pointe. This hatred continued into my college years when a proper pink tights, black leo, and tight bun dress code was enforced in my ballet classes. Learning the history of ballet made me appreciate the craft more, but I still thought it lacked a weirdness that only modern dance fulfilled in my life. When I graduated and moved into a career as a professional modern dancer, I really understood the hard work and dedication it takes to perform any type of dance and with continued exposure to some of the best ballets in the world my respect grew. I really hoped that Colorado Ballet’s production of The Wizard of Oz would be weird. And wow, did they deliver.

The opening scenes in Kansas were fun yet overcast. I started to write a note about how drab the lighting and scenery were when I remembered that this is exactly what is necessary for the story. Trad A Burns’s disparate lighting design wonderfully complimented Michael Raiford’s creepy scenic design for Kansas. Gigantic ribbons, flying cow projections, and a witch riding a bicycle through the sky all contributed to the vivid tornado scene that brought forth gasps and giggles from the crowd. Here we meet Dorothy (Dana Benton) and Toto (puppetry by Leopold Foster). Although I was absolutely in love with Benton’s performance, the old theater adage never work with children or animals because they steal scenes does hold true. It was mesmerizing to watch Foster’s brilliant execution of the Toto puppet throughout the work. Not only did Foster bring exuberance and whimsy to Toto, but he himself was very graceful to watch as well.

Things really brightened up when we met Munchkins and Glinda the Good Witch. Off the wall costumes (Liz Vandal) complimented quirky choreography (Septime Webre) that was a bit off synch at times, but still enjoyable. I have mixed feelings about the use of “flossing” in this production. I am in no way a ballet purist, but part of me felt that these movements didn’t  stylistically belong in this story. On the other hand, I love getting kids involved in the arts and I heard many youngsters in the lobby talking about how the dancers “flossed” and replicating their movements. Vandal’s use of what I lovingly described as “yellow post-it’s” to convey the Yellow Brick Road was absolutely genius. I was filled with glee while watching the Yellow Brick Roadies dip, dive, twist, and turn to take Dorothy on her journey to meet Scarecrow (Nicholas Pelletier), Tin Man (Jonnathan Ramirez), and Lion (Christopher Moulton). The quartet had great on stage chemistry, and danced beautifully together. It was a treat to see them interact with one another throughout the performance.

The arrival to Emerald City was not quite as exciting this time as it was the first time I ever watched the film version of The Wizard of Oz. Ballerinas draped in jade skirts and danseurs donned in malachite hats greeted Dorothy and crew for a welcome that was a little longer than necessary. The variations performed by the soloists here could stand a little more polishing. The witch’s cast scene was menacing but triumphant in its puppetry, costumes, and choreography. The winged monkeys lived up to my expectations, but I wish we would have
seen a little more of the talents of Asuka Sasaki (Wicked Witch) before she was tortuously melted.

Kudos must be given the Colorado Ballet Orchestra conducted by Adam Flatt. These musicians provided a clean and full bodied soundtrack for the dancers. While I wish some of the original music from the film had been incorporated, Matthew Pierce’s music composition was tailored to the story and choreography effortlessly.

If you’re looking for a delightfully weird and family friendly activity for the weekend, you should catch Colorado Ballet’s production of The Wizard of Oz running through March 20 in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at Denver Center for the Performing Arts.


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