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Victoria Morgan on the Latest with “Dancing to Oz”

January 22, 2019

Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet

An exciting component of this season’s April Bold Moves triple bill is the world premiere of Cincinnati Ballet Artistic Director Victoria Morgan’s Dancing to Oz, with original music by Maestro Carmon DeLeone.  Here’s a “sneak peek” interview with her about what’s happening with this new ballet based upon the classic Oz tale and created for both adults and children.

What’s the latest with your new World Premiere, Dancing to Oz, which is part of this year’s Bold Moves program?  Where do things currently stand?

While the designs have been complete for some time, we are now finalizing the budgets and execution of the sets and costumes.  And, of course, there is still the choreography to create! In spite of multiple revisions, Carmon DeLeone has now finished the score – in a computerized version. I have also been able to squeeze in a rehearsal here and there with individual characters.  I know the rehearsal period for Bold Moves will be very limited, as we will also be rehearsing our first Jiří Kylián ballet called Sechs Tänze, and a beautiful Ma Cong piece titled Near Light, with only three and a half weeks to prepare.

What are the similarities between the original Frank Baum story, and what are the differences?

There are similarities, but there are also differences. It starts in the ballet studio, which may or may not be in Kansas. The main character is a young girl who is interacting and dealing with highly accomplished dance students and a very strict ballet master.There is a tornado, but it is both an internal and external explosion of frustration from the main character, who in this case is called Dottie (named for a long time Cincinnati Ballet patron with special interest in live music and Carmon DeLeone.) Dottie attempts to execute a very difficult turning sequence and couldn’t get it right. She tries and falls down several times and with the last fall hits her head.

When she wakes, as in the original story, she finds herself in an unusual land inhabited by Munchkins. In the original story the magical shoes are silver, and in this story the silver shoes begin on the feet of the prized pet student.  Dottie discovers them in the debris from her tornado and is encouraged to put them on by her Munchkin friends.

Dottie, with the encouragement of the Munchkins, travels down the path of the yellow bricks (we can’t say Yellow Brick Road, as that phrase belongs to Warner Brothers!) and meets each of the Oz characters, who are a reflection of her own insecurities: the Scarecrow, who is not smart enough, the Tin Man, who is not fluid enough, and the Lion, who is cowardly.

While these insecurities become her friends as they travel together through the land of the Poppies, there is a difficult confrontation in a scary broken mirror scene where she is fighting to understand these insecurities, accept them, and work through them.

Are there challenges with telling this particular story via dance?  If so, what are they and how do you plan to overcome them?

We have a librettist and dramaturge, Alexander LaFrance, who worked with our designers and me on the narrative. We also had wonderfully rich and intense all-day sessions with the set and costume designers, our production people, and Carmon DeLeone, to brainstorm ways to better link, connect and tell a rationally-unfolding story.  While different from The Wizard of Oz, our story also embraces the main elements that embed this story inside the Oz story.

Who is the target audience(s) for this piece?

Originally, this idea was contemplated as an Education Outreach piece. As you know, I have a strong philosophy about supporting young girls/women and encouraging them to step forward, particularly in this art form, where there is a dearth of representation.

So, the overall approach began as a narrative for young women addressing confidence and leadership. The characters are silly, but also seriously touching.  The visuals are clever yet simple, manipulated mostly by the dancers on stage. The costumes are divine and very hip.  There will also be Academy students. My choreography leans towards the neo-classical side of ballet, which is exploratory, but clearly resides in the ballet realm of movement.

My hope is that adults and children alike will find compelling messages and visuals. Given the basics of the story, it is definitely a family ballet, which is a little odd for Bold Moves programming.  But, the fact that so few ballets are created from scratch (which means not only new sets and costumes, but an original narrative and composition), makes its placement within Bold Moves the best fit.

How is the work going with Carmon on the music for Dancing to Oz?  How would you describe the tone/feel of the music?

He is the best. We had opposing points of view on several sections.  We hashed through the story and hopeful changes, and he put up a good rationale for his musical ideas and sometimes won the debate.  But, he was also accommodating when I was convincing! I would say his style is jazzy, fun-loving, accessible, sort-of Broadway, funny, but also with some beautiful melodic and romantic tunes.  He is quite diverse with an interesting variety of sounds, but always clearly DeLeone!

Are you setting the piece in the “modern day,” or in a dance studio more around the time the story was written?  Was there a particular reason that you set it when you did?

The piece is told from today’s point of view, but in the way that drama rules. So, you see a ballet studio as today and then the dream state of Dottie’s imagination is more fantastical.

What are your plans for the piece after it premieres later?

We are hoping to incorporate this piece, or portions of it, into future Education Outreach programming. The goal is to recreate it in such a way that Dancing to Oz could be toured without the major set pieces – so it would basically be portable.

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