Enchanting 'Wizard of Oz' by Memphis Ballet Presented by Dance St. Louis

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

There is something comforting about watching the ballet version of a story you’re familiar with. Ballet Memphis’ “The Wizard of Oz,” presented by Dance St. Louis at Touhill Center of the Performing Arts last weekend, retells the L. Frank Baum story that has enthralled generations, thanks to the iconic film and Judy Garland’s Dorothy. The parts were danced beautifully, and with flying monkeys and the young local ballerinas from COCA on the program, the production was predictably adorable.

Ballet Memphis' Wizard of Oz Courtesy Dance St. Louis

Ballet Memphis’ Wizard of Oz
Courtesy Dance St. Louis

The show opens on the Kansas farm that Dorothy calls home, a three-story structure standing in for the farmhouse, which will be used to nice effect when the tornado hits and it is spun around and around, finally coming to rest in the Land of Oz. Cue the COCA Munchkins. If you weren’t already hooked, you were then. Of course there is much more to come. The field of poppies (ballerinas in Costume Designer Bruce Bui’s lovely ensemble), the spectacular arrival at Emerald City and of course, the flying monkeys (who don’t actually fly).

Ballet Memphis' Wizard of Oz Courtesy Dance St. Louis

Ballet Memphis’ Wizard of Oz
Courtesy Dance St. Louis

This ballet and production has a lot going for it. It’s perfect for kids (and adults) and the performances were danced beautifully, though Steven McMahon’s choreography pretty much sticks to the basics. When it’s performed flawlessly, however, and with uniform precision, “the basics” are still complicated and beautiful.

Ballet Memphis' Wizard of Oz Courtesy Dance St. Louis

Ballet Memphis’ Wizard of Oz
Courtesy Dance St. Louis

Stephanie Mei Hom and Daniel Russell Cook as Auntie Em and Uncle Henry do nice work, as does Crystal Brothers as the Wicked Witch. But it was the principals who really impressed. Julie Niekrasz as Dorothy was delightful, capturing the wide-eyed innocence of the character in both spirit and dance. The Scare Crow (Travis Bradley), the Tin Man (Dylan G. Bowley) and the Cowardly Lion (Kendall G. Britt Jr.) all gave picture-perfect interpretations of these very familiar roles.

“The Wizard of Oz” is another fine example of the interesting dance groups and shows that Dance St. Louis continues to bring to the city. Next up is “Diavolo,” Feb. 28 and March 1. For more information, visit the Dance St. Louis website.

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