The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Melbourne City Ballet
Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre, October 13
Review by Samantha Webb
Boutique ballet company, Melbourne City Ballet (MCB), have taken on the classic tale of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for their last production of the year before the habitual Christmas season of The Nutcracker.
This production also marks the first time that MCB will tour to Tasmania, with three shows in November. Click here to read our previous article on this show.
I was excited at the opportunity to see this performance, as I had heard good things about this young company. However, I was slightly surprised and disappointed at the apparent small crowd gathered in the foyer a little before 7.30pm on an auspicious Friday the 13th!
Having said that – I was most definitely NOT disappointed by the quality of the performance delivered in this lovely traditional telling of the beautiful story of Dorothy Gale and her adventures in Oz.
Artistic Director, Michael Pappalardo, and his creative team have brought forward a wonderful telling of this timeless tale that clearly draws much inspiration from the classic movie-musical starring Judy Garland. Set mostly to the music of Leo Delibes’ ‘Sylvia’, the opening act depicts Dorothy in Kansas on the farm with her dog Toto playfully seeking friendship with the farmhands who are just too busy to join in with her. We are introduced to the wicked neighbour, Almira Gulch, and the travelling fortune teller before the fateful tornado hits and sends Dorothy spinning into her dream-like adventures in the mythical Oz.
The sets are simple yet effective and quite cleverly moved and unveiled between scenes, sometimes with the help of two disguised stage hands who take a well deserved cheeky bow towards the end of act three. Costumes are also well thought through. My favourite were the beautiful poppies who danced Dorothy, the tin man, lion and scarecrow to sleep in spring coloured tutus.
This new ballet by Michael Pappalardo is choreographed well, providing the performers much opportunity to create and communicate character through dance by integrating some lighter contemporary movements with dramatic and comedic acting. In fact, this production is probably the biggest and brightest work stage by MCB so far and is effective story-telling. Overall, it works.
Dorothy’s timidity, playfulness and kindness comes across throughout and is exquisitely performed by Kealy Fourace’s obvious technical strengths and true artistry on stage. Principal artist Brendan Bradshaw, as the Lion, gives us perfect humour and character when we discover how afraid of everything he is; and Oscar Hoeschler, as Scarecrow, steals the show with his beautifully lyrical presentation that conveyed the clumsy, silly and fluid movements of Scarecrow. You can tell the dancers really got into their characters!
Emma Cheeseman plays the Wicked Witch of the West in true villainous style, and the character of Glinda – ‘the Good Witch of the North’ – was a wonderful contrast. She was tall, elegant and graceful throughout; exuding good and calm confidence where the Wicked Witch gives us the chaos of her band of monkeys, angry lighting, with aggressive choreography. The female cast is exceptionally strong in this production. The Emerald City scene is particularly engaging.
Perhaps the one thing missing from this production was an opportunity for Dorothy to really extend herself. The choreography was quite simple and didn’t provide enough for the dance to really shine in the time on stage – an opportunity missed? A shame as her talent is clearly evident. I would have liked to see more from her.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is well worth getting along to see for several reasons. We need to support this young ballet company that clearly has much talent and I will be making sure I do so in the future. It’s a more relaxed way to see ballet. And, shows like these are the best way to introduce kids to dance and live theatre.