Ballet Western Reserve takes a journey to ‘Oz’

Special to the Tribune Chronicle The cast for Ballet Western Reserve’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” includes, front, Ella Dill as Toto; middle row, Dagmar Stahl as the Scarecrow, Davia Ford as Dorothy, Megan Delaney as the Tin Woodsman, Will MacNeil as the Lion; and back row, Ava Shapiro as the Good Witch, Lexi Burdman as Nikko, Sarah Veverka as the Bad Witch, Emelia Aey as the Snow Queen and Tina LaRocca as the Queen of Munchkinland.

Ballet Western Reserve is taking a break from the land of Sugar Plum Fairies to present one filled with Munchkins, flying monkeys and a green witch.

In the late fall slot where it traditionally staged “The Nutcracker,” the Youngstown-based school and dance company will premiere “The Wizard of Oz,” an original ballet based on the novel by L. Frank Baum and co-directed by school director Jackie Cunningham and ballet mistress Emily Pasquale.

“There are some different ‘Wizard of Oz’ ballets out there, but for this one, all of the music was hand-chosen by myself and Emily,” Cunningham said. “There was no set score, so we had free range of composers to use and characters as well.”

The score includes such familiar pieces as Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” and Charles Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, best known as the theme song to the anthology series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Cunningham said she and Pasquale tailored the music and the dance moves to the personalities of the characters.

“With our version, it’s not just ballet,” Cunningham said. “We incorporated modern dance, we incorporated tap dance, even hip hop.”

The Tin Woodsman will tap dance while the loose-limbed, carefree Scarecrow’s steps will have more of a modern dance influence.

In addition to dancing, some of the characters will fly. BWR is bringing in the theatrical company Flying by Foy, which specializes in making characters soar on stage. More than 50 Broadway productions have featured Flying by Foy, including “Peter Pan,” “The Lion King,” “Cinderella,” “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and “Billy Elliot.”

“I think it’s a great collaboration and it’s giving these kids an even more challenging role,” Cunningham said. “This is a totally new element, and I think it’s going to be very rewarding in the end.”

Providing new performing opportunities for its students is one of the reasons the company decided to stage “Oz” instead of “The Nutcracker.”

“We wanted to give our students more opportunities to dance different roles,” Cunningham said. “When you look at their resumes, we want to open the door for them so they’re not just playing the same role year after year. We want them to study with different music, different scores, different time signatures, different acting roles.”

The production features a cast of nearly 100 performers and because it is a new show, work on the score and designing the sets started back in late May.

“We’re lucky to have such wonderful students and parents who support our nonprofit organization,” Cunningham said.


If you go …

WHAT: Ballet Western Reserve’s “The Wizard of Oz”

WHEN: 2, 7 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown.

HOW MUCH: $29 adults, $23 students and senior citizens and $17 children ages 12 and younger. Tickets are available at the DeYor Performing Arts Center, online at and by calling 330-744-0264.