World premiere of “Wizard of Oz” worth the wait

We may not be in Kansas, but that didn’t stop Friday’s audience from leaping to their feet as the curtain closed to welcome Dorothy, Toto, and all the rest, home to Kansas City.

Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz made its highly anticipated world premiere last night, opening Kansas City Ballet’s 2018-19 season. With Webre’s choreography and new music by Matthew Pierce, played by the Kansas City Symphony, the show offered a fresh take on this classic, all-American fairytale.

The curtain rose on the quaint farm of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry as they, along with Hunk, Hickory and Zeke, went about their work. Dorothy entered the scene along with Toto who immediately endeared himself to the crowd.

Toto was among many puppets used in the show. Designed by Nicholas Mahon and expertly manipulated by his puppeteer, the dog’s body wiggled with excitement as he cocked his head and jumped up to lick Dorothy’s face.

Dorothy was beautifully danced by Amanda DeVenuta. She lent the character a lighthearted, girlish quality while also expressing maturity and depth.

As the famous tornado bore down on the farm, a plethora of effects were employed. Lights upon the farmhouse made it appear to shake. Puppeteers with grey flags swirled around the stage to create the twister. Dorothy became the first of seven characters to fly, rising up in the storm.

As the stage grew more chaotic, a scrim lowered in front of everything and a video projection put the audience inside the tornado. When the scrim raised, Dorothy and Toto were in Munchkinland.

Munchkinland was a feast for the eyes. A brightly colored, quirky world that brought to mind contemporary art. Full of stripes and polka dots, from hats to tutus, costume designer Liz Vandal outdid herself.

The Munchkin dances were full of pirouettes and big jumps, choreographed perfectly to make every note of the playful music count.

As Dorothy headed down the Yellow Brick Road, a lively one made of eight dancing Yellow Brick Roadies, she picked up the other classic characters.

The Scarecrow, floppy, gangly, and losing his straw. The Tinman, whose dance was filled with sharp, quick petite allegro matching his stiff countenance. And of course, the Cowardly Lion decked out in fur boots and a gold chain around his neck. A motley crew to say the least, but one beloved by generations.

The ballet was contemporary in nature. Along with vibrant costumes and music, the choreography was athletic and exciting. There were a few moments of classicism however that stood out.

The first came as the characters entered the poppy field outside Emerald City. Before dancing a sweeping waltz, the poppies entered one after another, slowly zig-zagging across the stage. A nod to famous ballets such as La Bayadère or Swan Lake.

Another was a beautiful pas de deux in the Emerald City between the Guard with the Green Whiskers and the Emerald Ballerina.

Emerald City itself was everything one could hope for. Satin drapes, velvet ottomans, disco balls and green sparkly everything – even lipstick – gave the entire scene a luxurious, effortless cool.

Co-commissioned by Colorado Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, and Canada’s Royal Winnepeg Ballet, and originally set to debut last May, The Wizard of Oz was worth the wait. This visually stunning and lively performance is sure to delight audiences regardless of age or expertise.

The Wizard of Oz runs through October 21 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Student rush tickets are available for $12 beginning 90 minutes prior to the show. For more information visit kcballet.org.

 

ceh6y6@mail.umkc.edu

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