Over the Rainbow

The Northern Lights School of Dance (NLSD) is bringing the story of The Wizard of Oz to Yukon Arts Centre stage in full colour this month.

“We’ve adapted it based on the 1939 film version of the story,” says Dale Cooper, artistic consultant for the production.

“It made more sense to do the story based on the movie. And because we are doing a story ballet, without singing and without acting, we’ve got to kind of make it an easily cohesive production.”

There will be all the traditional characters from the popular L. Frank Baum children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, including Dorothy, the Tin Man, Cowardly the Lion, the Scarecrow, the Wicked Witch of the West, and of course, the Wizard.

Dorothy will carry around a stuffed pet terrier, Toto, Cooper notes.

The evening will be divided into two parts. The first part is the story ballet of The Wizard of Oz, which will run about 40 minutes. Following an intermission, the second half is what is being called Showtime.

This latter part will incorporate an excerpt from the classical Marius Petipa-Ludwig Minkus ballet, LaBayadère (The Temple Dancer), guest choreographed by Debra Lemaire, past artistic director at NLSD, and performed by the senior dancers.

From there, the rest of the classes will take the second act away with jazz, contemporary, and Afro-Cuban funk.

“We have a few grad dances, a few duets, and our Arctic Winter Games cultural contingent is going to showcase one of the dances they did,” says Cooper.

The program will be about two hours long.

“When it comes to year end, you want to showcase what the classes have been working on,” says Cooper.

Cooper has been teaching ballet for 30 years.

“Doing a story ballet allows the baby ballet to be a part of something, rather than have them be on stage doing a two-minute dance piece,” Cooper says.

“They are too young to really be able to showcase work, so it’s better to give them little characters, and little stories to pull them into the actual story of the dance. We just found it was more fun and more inclusive to have a story ballet where all of the ballet classes participate.”

About 200 dancers are involved—all classes from the Whitehorse-based NLSD.

The soundtrack for the evening consists of excerpts from the London production of The Wizard of Oz -The Musical, and a mix of classical music.

Instead of crowding the stage with props, there will be backdrops, some of which are pictures of backdrops that were used for various musical presentations of The Wizard of Oz.

“We’ve kept the music as thematic as possible,” says Cooper.

“For example, Munchkin Land has got everything in it. It’s got Glinda, the Lullaby League, it’s got the Lollipop Guild, it’s got everything.”

Dorothy will be interpreted by Simone Kitchen, one of the grad dancers. The grad dancers are the oldest dancers of the group—this is their last year at the dance school, coinciding with their high school graduation.

This year there are 12 graduates, a high number for the school.

“We’re losing 12 of our older dancers this year. It’s kind of sad!” mourns Cooper.

Nick Jeffrey, she notes, who will play the Scarecrow, is moving on to attend musical theatre school at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

This is a special year for Cooper. Not only was The Wizard of Oz her choice for the NLSD year-end production, this is her last year with the school.

“I chose it because I wanted to do it for a long time!” Cooper laughs.

“I took this opportunity, seeing it is my last year.”

The best part, she says, has been watching the production come together.

“It started as a little seed and has grown into this big production, which is great and I’m really excited about that.

“I love my kids and I’m really thrilled to see them dance, and it is going to be a hard year for me… I’m sure they are all going to be wonderful and I’m going to be sad to see them all go.”

Wizard of Oz & Showtime 2012 takes place May 9 and 10 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

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