World premiere debuts at Kauffman Center

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By Bob Evans

In a collaborative effort with Colorado Ballet Company and Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company, KC Ballet debuted “The Wizard of Oz” on Oct. 12 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with beautiful staging, costumes, projections, the KC Symphony providing the music and the elegant ballet dance moves expected of such a grand collaboration.

According to the KC Ballet, the new production cost over $1 million to create. “Every aspect of this ballet has been custom designed and created to wow,” a spokesman for KC Ballet said of the show that made its world premiere Oct. 12. “The Wizard of Oz” runs Oct. 12-21.

Thee newly crafted modern ballet delights audiences with astounding choreography by Septime Webre, new music composed by Matthew Pierce, set design by Michael Raiford, costume design by Liz Vandal, lighting design by Trad A Burns, puppet design by Nicholas Mahon, and projection design by Aaron Rhyne. The production is accompanied by Kansas City Symphony conducted by Kansas City Ballet Music Director Ramona Pansegrau. For this new venture, story lines and visual elements from the classic motion picture are provided by Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures.

“I have long loved Septime’s work. His re-imagined production of ‘Alice (in wonderland)’ was something so extraordinary, with such a sophisticated twist on a beloved children’s story, that we
knew we needed to work together to bring his fresh take on this classic tale from America’s Heartland to the Kauffman Center stage,” Kansas City Ballet Artistic Director Devon Carney stated. His unique artistic vision, along with this deeply talented creative team, offers our audiences a refreshingly original spectacle. The sheer artistry and the level of detail on every design element will absolutely astonish audiences. I can’t wait for the curtain to go up on opening night.”

The performance positively stuns the audience from the opening visual projections through the final bows. Suffice it to say the show pleases the multitudes. The dance combines the classic ballet moves with uncountable spins, leaps, and jumps, but also includes some modern ballet, jive, and even a moment of two of hip-hop.

Unfortunately for Kansas City audiences, no print publication features an Arts section, so any and all reviews now fall into the hands of the unskilled, unschooled writers who do not know (or understand) ballet, classical music, the symphony, Chamber music, and much of anything beyond musical theatre–especially me. I sat amazed as I watched this ballet unfold in front of me. I loved the projection and fun to begin the dance. The musical score entertained throughout and matched intricately with the dance moves on stage. The aerials caught me off guard and shocked me. My jaw dropped when Dorothy was lifted into the twister, and I laughed when Almira Gulch rode her bicycle across mid-air through the tornado.

I must admit, I was entertained with “The Wizard of Oz,” but had I not known the entire story (or at least the MGM movie with Judy Garland) I would not have understood the ballet. Characters were added that I did not know; parts were left out; and some scenes seemed to go on forever (Munchkinland seemed to never end). Dorothy’s reunification with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry does not exist in this revised version. And I continue to wonder what ever happened to Mrs. Gulch after the tornado and her notion to have Toto destroyed.

The choreography of “The Wizard of Oz” absolutely dazzles as do the costumes. The show is bright, fun, and full of audience appeal. The flying monkeys are so spectacular to watch that I missed most of the part where Scarecrow is dismantled and Dorothy is kidnaped and taken to the witch’s castle. The monkey scene is mesmerizing.

As for the dancers, all were great and the children parts were so fun. I especially liked Dorothy, Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard, and Tinman. The choreography of tinman, combined with his costume stand out to me. He and Toto were my favorites. The puppet design of Toto was fantastic. Even more spectacular was the puppet-master making him look like a real dog. Absolutely amazing. (And he drew the loudest applause on opening night.)

For those interested, in “The Wizard of Oz,” watching the movie first would help remind you of the story. There is no “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” or “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead.” This version features original composition to put the focus on the ballet and dance performances. It’s quite a change of expectation.

The artistry of the KC Symphony adds a rich texture to the musical score and the music direction absolutely marries the music and dance. Other elements of technical aspects have been custom fit to this show, so projection, sound, lighting, props, etc all point to a successful run here and in Colorado and Winnipeg where the ballet travels next.

Tickets may be purchased by telephone at 816.931.8993, in person at the Kansas City Ballet Box Office located at the Bolender Center at 500 W. Pershing Rd. (west of Union Station) or with “Select Your Own Seat” capability online at www.kcballet.org.  Tickets also may be purchased at the Kauffman Center Box Office and website. Visit the Kansas City Ballet website for more information about performance times, seating options and parking at www.kcballet.org. Tickets are on sale now.

Tags: KC Ballet, Wizard of Oz Ballet, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Colorado Ballet Company

Images courtesy of Kansas City Ballet and Bob Evans | KC Applauds

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