This past Friday the Columbia Classical Ballet presented OZ. Directed by Radenko Pavlovich and choreographed by Simone Cuttino, the company continued its record of fine dancing in the pursuit of providing Columbia with quality ballet. The night performance was sold out (I think, or nearly so), which is quite an achievement when considering all the competition available for the entertainment dollar. Yet, I was a little disappointed in the show, probably the first time I could say this about any CCB production I have attended.
First, in the spirit of openness, I admit that I am not an experienced ballet reviewer, so my criticisms come from a rank amateur. I also am awed by the ability and physicality of these dancers (standing offstage watching them dance is an amazing treat), and I really enjoy attending the dances. My son has danced for Pavlovich for several years now, and this was his second appearance in this particular production (having also been part of several Nutcrackers and Robin Hood). I like Pavlovich personally and recognize his value to the community and to the young dancers he brings under his wing; I support efforts of the company to the best of my ability. Furthermore, I enjoy and have gotten to know many of the dancers. CCB provides a great stepping stone for many careers.
The dancing in OZ, of course, was inspirational. Kaleena Burks, as Dorothy, was wonderful throughout the production. I especially liked her open-armed twirls, such as when she came onto the stage in Scene 3. Peter Matkaicsek and Zoltan Boros were very good as the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, respectively. I thought young Journy Wilkes-Davis was excellent as the Tin Man---I suspect he has a great career in store for him. Oleksandr Vykhrest is quite impressive as Oz. Akari Manabe, besides being beautiful and a very nice person, is a wonderful dancer. . .she practically beams when she is on stage. She was Glinda; and she looked great in orange (in the rainbow scene) too. My friends Waldilei Goncalves and Renata Franco (in several roles each) were wonderful as well. I think this was one of the best performances put on by Waldilei since he has been in Columbia; he soared in several scenes (and he is not the tallest dancer). Lauren Frere is simply too pretty to be the Wicked Witch! (She just doesn’t seem "mean" enough, but she sure dances well). There were a lot of other good performances, too many to mention----Kaori Yanagida is great.
Act One was much stronger of the two parts. I wish that they could have dressed one of those little tykes in a doggy suit and let him/her run across the stage a few times with Dorothy a-chasing; Toto is totally missing (other than being alluded to with the basket and collar) in the production. The opening scenes are solid and colorful and inviting. The visionary/conman aspect of Professor Marvel does not really come through, but Vykhrest is expressive and playful in his dance. One thing that somewhat bothered me was the sense that they really didn’t know what to do with Marvel/Oz. . .it seemed they wanted to make his relationship with Dorothy a love affair.
Something was just a little off in the Muchkinland scene. There should have been a bit more "happiness" and movement. The outfits were beautiful, though. The last Nutcracker had a lot more motion in their use of the kids. The little bumblebee captured the most "ahhhs" from the audience. I realize that this portion is where the company shoehorns younger members into the production in hopes of giving them time on the stage and to showcase a little of what they have been working at, largely to keep the parents happy. I wasn’t too happy, though, with my son’s role. [Parent Alert!] The only person on the stage who had fewer dance steps was the Wicked Witch of the East, and she was dead flat on her back.
The "poppy" dance was my favorite scene. The red dresses were eye-catching. One minor quibble, however---the Tin Man and Scarecrow did not fall asleep in the poppy field, as best that I can remember. It would have made more sense if they had run off to get help from Glinda, or danced around in trepidation.
Act 2 seemed to start off badly and went downhill from there. Supposedly the Dorothy entourage arrives at Emerald City, but the backdrop indicates that it is actually far off in the distance (all of the backdrops, however, were very nicely done). They are supposed to be joyously, or at least happily, greeted in a colorful, wondrous way, but one does not get much sense of this. I am not sure why (possibly financial), but the fairies are all dressed in pink and tan outfits. . .where is the sparkling color? I expected that there would be lots of greens (somewhere along the visually attractive poppy scene) and spakling shininess. And then we also come to that section where Oz and Dorothy "feel an instant connection". Excuse me, but. . . .isn't that the slightest bit creepy to anyone?
The attack of the flying monkeys is nicely danced, though the outfits looked a little too much like mice, and were "cute" rather than menacing. Further troubling to me were the splashes of white attached to the dancers' bottoms, which in the darker scenes and against the black costumes (at least from where I was sitting) made the monkeys look more like mice/rabbits, since the eye immediately went to the white (well, maybe it was just my eye). I was told that this was intentional so that people could see that the monkeys had tails, but I just don’t buy it. It looked as if the tails were coming loose and stuffing was popping out. In the next scene the Wicked Witch tries to transform herself into Dorothy (yuck. . .was that in the book? I can’t remember). Then a fight ensues in which Dorothy slays WWW as she is trying to kill Oz. Returning to the Emerald City (or not to the city, depending on how it appears) there should have been raucous joy. . .but there really isn’t.
I was also a little put off by most of the music, too (except for the choice for the rainbow scene). I especially didn’t like the use of the sorcerer’s music from Mickey Mouses’ Fantasia (as you can see, what a classical music putz am I, but what do I know?). A few more props, particularly in the EC scene, possible off to the sides, would have helped. Maybe if they had been able to have some false buildings off to the side in the Emerald City scenes.
Overall, though, I thought OZ was a nice performance and the dancing itself was great. Now, I know most people are familiar with the movie version, while still others still read the books. And dance is a different art medium, and much leeway has to be given to artistic interpreatation. Still, it bothered me when I heard a couple of little girls turn to their mother/chaperone and declare, "I didn’t like it." How can anyone not like OZ? Maybe some tweaking is in store for a future presentation, because clearly the Columbia community was willing to come out to see it and support ballet.