BY MARY HELEN DARAH
Michael Lang, the resident director and choreography for the Toledo Ballet since 2007, once again provided a production that proved ballet could be more than just tutus and toe shoes. To follow his successful 2015 Alice in Wonderland production, Lang and his performers brought The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to the Valentine Theater stage. Lang based his latest original choreographed work on the 1900 classic book by L. Frank Baum with the same title.
The relatively young ballet company included soloists Nora Light and Madeline Rick. Both shared the lead role and brought Dorothy to life during the weekend performances held on April 30 and May 1. In Lang’s adaption, Dorothy meets an eclectic crew of friends including the Scarecrow performed by Phillipe Taylor, the Woodman performed by Antonio Winfree, the Cowardly Lion performed by Domonique Glover, and a spunky portrayal of Toto by Lauren Woodward. The foursome brought a contemporary twist to the classic tale. The blending of traditional ballet, hip-hop and contemporary dance, demonstrated Lang’s ability to evolve with the community and connect to younger generations while maintaining the foundations of traditional ballet.
The Wizard of Oz character, played by Thomas Laboe, Jr., was portrayed as an interesting mix of con artist, politician and traveling salesman. Elizabeth Stuart portrayed the Wicked Witch with intensity but did not instill fear in any young audience members. The same holds true for The King of the Winged Monkeys, Richard Fernandez, and his band of leaping, acrobatic primates who were dressed in bright yellow jumpsuits. Thankfully the Winged Monkeys will be remembered for their athleticism and not for their nightmare-inducing abilities as in the legendary 1939 film version.
Color also played a significant role in the production especially with the use of tinted spectacles that were provided to attendees. The green Emerald City was enhanced with their use. Another interesting element of the performance was the constant presence of Dorothy’s Aunt Em, played by Juliette Morgan Quinlan, and her Uncle Henry, performed by Michael Warrick. Their existence throughout the performance solidified one of the main themes of the story. Dorothy and her friends had what they needed and desired all along. Courage and the bond of friendship ultimately come from within— magic slippers, although fun and sparkly, are not required.