The Wizard of Oz has long been a family favorite. From the lovable Dorothy Gale and her little dog Toto to the Wicked Witch of the West, the Land of Oz has captured the hearts of generations of Americans. And now, it is our turn to follow the Yellow Brick Road— straight to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House where the Colorado Ballet is putting on the second ever production of the Wizard of Oz ballet (after, of course, Kansas City).
The Wizard of Oz is the brainchild of Septim Webre (choreographer). In an astonishing feat, he managed to pull together three major ballet companies: the Kansas City Ballet, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and, of course, Denver’s very own Colorado Ballet. The three ballet companies joined forces nearly two years ago to shoulder the $1.1 million budget together.
Featuring Dana Benton (Dorothy Gale) and Morgan Buchanan (Wicked Witch of the West), this production showcases a stunning blend of stereotypical ballet and theater. As Dorothy and her companions make their way through Oz, various props and puppets join them, including the Wicked Witch’s army of flying monkeys and the adorable Toto, operated by Benjamin Rose.
Morgan Buchanan has been with Colorado Ballet since 2009, and has been a soloist since 2016, so she has had her fair share of big roles with this company. However, this production is a little different. “Usually, as a ballerina, you’re in tutus or a sugar plum fairy, you’re happy and generous. So any time I get to play a character that’s not the typical ballerina, I really have a lot of fun with it,” she said. Additionally, since this production draws inspiration from the film rather than traditional ballet attire, it is more difficult to dance in the costumes. “We’ve done one run in costume so far … the costume kind of threw me off. There’s a hat that’s pretty tall, and then there’s also a skirt that’s long and it’s an outfit you don’t normally wear when you’re rehearsing.”
As with pretty much any Colorado Ballet performance (or any professional ballet for that matter), the cast and crew work hard to create a stunning production where athlete meets art. Ballet is extremely physically demanding and often the company will come off stage and need to take a sit down in order to catch their breath. This certainly is not for the faint of heart (or lung, take your pick). “There’s bad days in every profession,” says Buchanan. “There are certainly times when you get offstage and you’re panting and you’re sweaty and your body probably hurts, and sometimes there’s that little flicker in your mind. Why am I doing this to myself? But being on stage— there’s no feeling like it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
The hard work the Colorado Ballet has put into The Wizard of Oz is certainly paying off. With the seamless integration of props and sets in the production to the breathtaking leaps and twirls, this is an event that those who were lucky enough to snag tickets to will be fortunate to attend.