Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Wizard of Oz

(Shih-Huai Liang as the Scarecrow; Junio Teixeira as the Tin Man; Leonid Flegmatov as the Cowardly Lion; Reka Gyulai as Dorothy; and artistic director Radenko Pavlovich)

Yesterday I drove back from an installation on Kiawah Island in time for Columbia Classical Ballet's "Wizard of Oz" at the Koger Center. Steve and I were pleasantly surprised to walk in and sit in front of an entourage from Columbia City Ballet including artistic director William Starrett, ballet mistress Mariclare Miranda and her lovely mother Pat, lighting designer Barry Sparks, former dancer Anthony Hampton, and a tall blond lady I didn't know. After the performance we ran into Brian Harrelson and his mother. We knew them from elementary school days at St. Peter's. Brian was a grade ahead of Mathias and they played soceer together. Now, he was waiting with a bouquet of roses for the Wicked Witch, Jeanette Medina. Still, later...while picking up a few groceries at Publix...we bumped into Chris Plus, who used to work for William Starrett. Together, he and I mounted the silent auction fundraiser that took place in the lobby during CCB's first Where the Wild Things Are production about seven years ago. Chris is now training new hires for Verizon, married, and living not far from us

So, why does this "review" (for lack of a better's not that I think I'm even qualified to write such a thing!) sound more like a "gossip column"? Well, because I found these to be the most interesting part of the evening. The performance was rather boring.

It isn't that everything was "bad". In fact, there were a few positive things. Here's my take:

1) Reka Gyulai, in the lead as Dorothy, was quite good. Her extension seems effortless and she looked perfect in the part.
2) The State Newspaper managed to run a review in this morning's paper, although there was no mention that readers could take advantage of the positive comments by seeing the two performances scheduled for today.
3) The music was a nice blend of familiar melodies ranging from Saint Saens' Carnival of the Animals to Paul Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice to Dvorak's Carnival Overture.
4) The attendance was very good and we waved at all sorts of former clients, many of whom had kids in the show.

1) The dancing, which had its good moments too, was full of unfortunate bobbles which might have been easy to overlook but wasn't because there just wasn't much dancing done...I'm likely not saying this correctly. Let me try this....the plot, which followed the movie almost frame by frame, was carried along mostly by recital-like passages by single dancers. The production was what I would have expected (and enjoyed more) from a civic company, not a professional one. There wasn't much "group" choreography included, except for a mismatched group of six company and apprentice members who weren't often in unison.
2) The casting. There were dozens of beautifully costumed "munchkins", "poppies", "butterflies", "little flowers", "bumble bees", and "little flowers" who, though darling, dragged down the tempo of show. Don't get my wrong, I, too, adore seeing kids on stage. I know how important it is to help draw their parents into supporting the company. I am much more aware of the impact such an opportunity can have on the child....mine chose ballet as a career due to this. Yet, the use of children in a professional production should be tempered. Last week, at Swan Lake, we witnessed proper casting of children...fewer (making it a really special opportunity) that balanced the professional dancing with a few cute "ah" moments...not overly long passages where the kids run around in circles and are part of the plot's necessary progression. There were too many minutes spent dragging chairs on and off the stage for the professionals to sit while the kids did their "recital" type dancing.
3) The timing. Many of the dancing sequences seemed to drag a if waiting for the end of the canned music (which was often too loud but was a nice selection, nicely seamed together into a score). I was left with the impression that this show could be cut into a nice, shorter presentation. As it was, it just didn't have enough for the length of time or ought to have been significantly trimmed....either way, the timing was off.

There was another item that really puzzled me. The Teixeria boys, Junio and Humberto, who danced the Tin Man and Wizard, respectively, are from Charlotte. I'm relatively sure that live and work from there. Perhaps, using out-of-state dancers in leading roles contributed to the choreographic decisions to feature one dancer almost at a time. I just don't know. The newspaper review by Sarah Pellerin commented on Humberto's "strong, bold movements (that) pleasantly complemented Kenar's graceful Good Witch in the pas de deux that served as a finale". I really didn't see anything that I would call a "pas de deux". There simply wasn't enough partnering done in the entire production to add up to what a "classical" company ought to call a "pas"...or at least it seems so to me.

To end on a positive note, it was great to see Shih-Huai Liang as the scarecrow. Steve and I have considered it our privilege to watch his season, support our son's former roommate in his first professional job, and we enjoyed the comic actions he had with Teixeria and Flegmatov (the Cowardly Lion). These were the productions best moments.

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