The room was humming with excitement when Artistic Director Victoria Morgan stopped on stage to welcome the audience to opening night of Cincinnati Ballet’s incredible production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Morgan’s remarks celebrated the creativity and dedication of the artists involved in bringing this fresh ballet (first premiered in Kansas City in 2018) to the Cincinnati stage and emphasized that it is the most complex stage production the Cincinnati Ballet has ever mounted. She mentioned that while “The Wizard of Oz” brings elements of musicals to ballet, it continues to be intense classical ballet for the dancers. This production highlights the dancers and pulls out what makes ballet unique, rather than feeling like a ballet trying to be a musical. It is a brilliant, can’t-miss production!
There is a lot that pops visually in this colorful and dynamic ballet but one of the highlights are the whimsical costumes from designer Liz Vandal. Vandal’s past work has included costumes for Cirque du Soleil’s production of “Ovo,” and a circus vibe was present in the colors, textures and shapes of the munchkins and trees. The “Yellow Brick Roadies,” dancers personifying the road itself, were a very clever twist that managed to celebrate dance while visually moving the story from place to place.
The set was impressive and managed to convey a dreamlike quality to Oz throughout. There were many humorous moments, such as the signs on the Emerald City doors, but there were also many visually stunning scenes, including the truly frightening flying monkeys, the sleepy poppy field, the tornado and the switch from the Kansas farmstead to the magical land of Oz.
The creativity of this production shines in its use of puppetry. Toto was lifelike, wiggling with excitement and leaping with affection, and a crowd pleaser in every scene. Sterling Manka, as puppeteer, managed to convey a range of emotions in Toto while blending seamlessly into dance numbers and stage scenes.
The company put on incredible dance performances while also engaging in great storytelling through body language. The lead dancers in this production were a joy to watch. Melissa Gelfin as Dorothy brought pluck and sweetness to her role and Maizyalet Velázquez was a powerful force as the Wicked Witch of the West, commanding attention whenever she flew, danced, or biked onto the stage. Also, Miss Gulch biking through a tornado was one of the most impressive uses of stage flying I have ever seen.
Dorothy’s companions on the Yellow Brick Road, Cervilio Amador as Scarecrow, Taylor Carrasco as Tin Man and Michael Mengden as Cowardly Lion all put on varied and arresting dance performances interspersed with great physical comedy, making use of their classical training while portraying the nervousness of the Lion, the stiffness of the Tin Man and the floppy qualities of the Scarecrow.
This production of The Wizard of Oz is a treat for young audience members (many children were in attendance), and the impressive stage production and playful physicality of the performance would make it a fun and accessible ballet for first-timers and seasoned ballet attendees alike. The standing ovation began the second the curtain raised and I joined the crowd in saying bravo!
Caitlin Tracey-Miller loves museums, art, reading, and freshly baked ginger cookies. She works at the Cincinnati Art Museum and enjoys going on adventures with her husband and toddler.