Catch a ride on a tornado to OZ

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By Special to the Monitor

This weekend, the Los Alamos community will be transported to the land of Oz in another New Mexico Dance Theater–Performance Company (NMDT–PC) production. Director Susan Baker-Dillingham’s newest original ballet, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” premiers at 7:30 p.m. Friday, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Duane Smith Auditorium.

Once again, Baker-Dillingham has transformed a story into a feast for the eyes and ears. From the dramatic moment of the tornado, to the specter of a flying monkey, to the meeting with the great wizard, the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” makes for ballet story telling. The first two sections of the ballet, including the tornado scene, are performed in shades of gray. The trap door will be used for the first time in years, video images will be projected in several scenes, and many other surprises are in store.

“I love presenting new material to the community each year,” Baker-Dillingham said. “I can’t imagine not challenging myself and my dancers with original creations. The development of true dance artistry comes from being extremely adaptable to new ways of moving and thinking about the character you are portraying. It is also essential for young dancers to work with different composers and different styles of music. That cannot be accomplished by performing the same ballet to the same composer year after year.”

In fact, NMDT–PC has earned a strong reputation within the community because of the popularity of the company’s productions–and “Oz” is no exception.

“The story provides many roles for my pre-professional company members to dance and stretch their performing and acting abilities. Audience members consistently approach me after our productions and remark how impressed they were with the musical choices and the quality of the production itself. They often tell me they can compare my productions with those they have seen in New York, Chicago, or even Russia. It is a great compliment,” Baker-Dillingham said.

As usual, NMDT–PC costume mistress Kenda Bultman and a group of volunteer seamstresses have fashioned a huge array of new costumes. The Munchkin Land costumes are particularly fun and colorful. The poppy scene features all 17 poppies in red–including velvet elbow-length gloves, and the Good Witch of the North’s gown is constructed of 15 yards of organza and 70 yards of pink tulle.

“Proper costuming has always been very important to me,” Baker-Dillingham said. “I want my productions to be as close to a professional company setting as possible, and the visual impact costumes make is essential to that goal.”

Sets, designed by Holly Haas and constructed by Haas and NMDT–PC prop mistress Winnie Lamartine, are intentionally minimal, leaving maximum stage space for the choreography of large-group dances. Lighting, designed by theater manager Ross Mason, will also play a big role in “Oz,” creating the desired atmosphere and “look” for each scene. Because no musical score exists of “Oz,” Baker-Dillingham has again spent many hours finding the right mix needed for the ballet. Composers that make up the music for “Oz” include Gottschalk, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov and Sibelius.

NMDT–PC productions wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated dancers that appear in them. The cast of “Oz” consists of 46 NMDT–PC members, plus Bruce Lamartine making special appearances as both Uncle Henry and the Wizard. Principal Company dancers include Natasha Roberts as Dorothy, Akane Dunn as Toto, Michael Roybal as The Scarecrow, Mark Dunn as The Tin Woodsman, Chris Jeffery as The Cowardly Lion, Bethany Sullivan as The Good Witch of the North, Larissa Fortson as the Wicked Witch of the West, Hannah Taylor and guest artist Peter Strand as the Tornado, Chelsy Smith as the Queen of the Poppies, and Kelsey Mann as the Yellow Brick Road.

NMDT–PC, a nonprofit 501-c3 organization, is no stranger to giving back to the Los Alamos community, which has been so supportive of the company. NMDT–PC will host three other nonprofits during the “Oz” performances. Working in artistic conjunction with three main characters from the ballet (The Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion), a portion of each ticket sold will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, the Los Alamos Heart Council, and the Los Alamos Council on Cancer.

Presale tickets (cash or check only please) are available at Villages Arts or at the door 45 minutes prior to performance times.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and free for children age four and under. Check www.NMDT.org to find more information and view the “Oz” commercial created by Pac8’s Holger Waschinski.