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Ballet Bonanza

Featuring special effects usually reserved for Broadway productions, journey with Dorothy, Glinda, and Scarecrow as they make their return to save the land of Oz in "Dorothy and the Prince of Oz."

Gina Conroy
January 28, 2020

Those of us who are old enough may remember waiting all year for the annual late-night television showing of MGM’s 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. It was an enchanting time where the magic of Hollywood transported Dorothy Gale from her dreary black and white farm of Kansas to the dangerous and colorful land of Oz.

Even before 1939, audiences were drawn to Dorothy’s adventures in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book The Wizard of Oz. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, new versions and sequels emerged, including The Wiz (1978), starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, that took audiences to a fantasy Oz on the streets of New York City. Over the last couple of decades, many remakes and spin-off stories have been told, including the musical Wicked.

Though the story has been told in many art forms over the century, no one rendition brings to life the story of this teenager with a wanderlust for adventure with more beauty and grace than the Tulsa Ballet under the direction of Marcello Angelini.

Angelini, a trained ballet dancer who has performed principal and leading roles in classical repertoire including various versions of Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake, wanted a broader audience to experience this enchanting art form. To do that, he needed to create a ballet everyone could enjoy.

Dorothy and the Prince of Oz was created and built around the idea of engaging people who are not familiar with ballet.
Dorothy and the Prince of Oz was created and built around the idea of engaging people who are not familiar with ballet.

“When we set off on this journey, we looked at about 100 stories, knowing that we wanted to select a recognizable name while not falling into the trap of doing a banal, superficial knock-off of a famous movie or book,” says Angelini, who has been artistic director with Tulsa Ballet since 1995. “The plan was to take the audience on a trip in a familiar place, the land of Oz, but once there explore another area of the magical land.”

His vision was simple: create a ballet that worked from a 360-degrees point of view.

“We were looking for a piece that worked well for new audiences, one that would be enjoyed by ballet lovers, one that had a clear plot and with a story well told, with great music, great sets and puppetry, and beautiful costumes,” says Angelini.

To bring his vision to life, Angelini needed a team. But not just any team: the best in the creative field. The only thing Angelini knew ahead of time was that the choreography, under the direction of Edwaard Liang, would be phenomenal. The rest of the story would unfold piece by piece during the design process. They didn’t even have a storyline until Oliver Peter Graber, the librettist (a person who writes the text of the ballet), mentioned that Baum wrote a series of books, not just The Wizard of Oz. Angelini’s team decided to use one of the other books for the base of their story.

“We revised the plot to include a love story, and then moved forward with sets, costumes, and original score,” says Angelini.

With Graber assembling the score from existing music and composing the additional 30%, plus Basil Twist, the top puppeteer in the United States on the team, they were off to a great start.

“We commissioned Mark Zappone, one of the top costume designers in the country,” says Angelini. “We wanted the costumes, as well as the sets, to be glamorous; we wanted them to help take the audience on this imaginative journey.”

That’s just what Zappone did.

Through collaboration with BalletMet of Columbus, Ohio, Dorothy and the Prince of Oz ended up being a $1 million commissioned full-length ballet. “When we world premiered it in 2016 [in Tulsa,] we sold out every show,” says Angelini, who estimated a third of the audience were first-time ballet attendees. “Everybody left the theater enchanted by the piece and intrigued with our art form.”

This month, Tulsa has another opportunity to be enchanted by this ballet. Featuring special effects you usually see on Broadway, Tulsa audiences will travel back to the land of Oz and experience this adventure with Dorothy and all the beloved characters of the series, including Glinda and Scarecrow.

“The tornado effect in the beginning of the ballet with the house flying up in the air is quite spectacular,” says Angelini. “Genius Award winner puppeteer Basil Twist built three puppets that are part of the show and help illustrate the story. They are manipulated by dancers who are visible during the action, and yet they [the puppets] look eerily real.”

And speaking of dancers, Tulsa Ballet, which has earned the reputation of being among the top 10 in the country, has some of the best in the industry. Each year they receive between 1,400 and 1,600 resumes.

“Requests come from all over the world,” says Angelini.

Currently, they have 10 countries represented in their roster. Knowing that these applications are to replace between one and four dancers a year, Angelini is very careful about the dancers they hire.

“Of course, we want them to be good, versatile, strong technically and artistically, but then we make sure they fit our organizational culture,” says Angelini. Defining their culture took about a year, starting with interviewing each department in the company. Then with the help of a consultant, they created a small book that summarizes their beliefs, aims, and aspiration.

“You will find, in that booklet, the word excellence in every single paragraph and sentence,” says Angelini.

When you watch the dancers leap, glide, and turn onstage, that’s just what you will see: excellence.

As artistic director, Angelini strives to make sure the experience of going to the ballet is a fulfilling one for everyone from the moment the audience walks through the front doors of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center to the time they leave the theater. To bring this enhanced experience to the public, he offers a free pre-performance discussion.

“Knowing the background of the dance, what to look for, the story behind the story and the details of how this work came to life, will give the audience members participating in the pre-performance experience a sense of perspective, and a sharpened focus on what they are about to see,” says Angelini.

Audience members will find all kinds of interesting information at the staff table to satisfy their curiosity and give them the information they need to enhance the experience. The discussion includes hearing the story and the creation of Dorothy and the Prince of Oz before they see the ballet.

Whether you’re a seasoned ballet enthusiast or new to this storytelling art form, Angelini encourages you to see it for yourself.

Dorothy and the Prince of Oz was created and built around the idea of engaging people who are not familiar with ballet,” says Angelini. “[But] Oz is meant for everybody.”

Dorothy and the Prince of Oz
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. | Tulsa
Feb. 13: 7 p.m.
Feb. 14-15: 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 16: 2:30 p.m.