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Raising the barre
Savannah Arts Academy turns 'The Wizard of Oz' into a ballet
"It was quite a creative experience," says Savannah Arts Academy director Christina Powell about making a ballet out of 'The Wizard of Oz.'

For her spring production, Savannah Arts Academy artistic director Christina Powell decided to forgo the standard kid–ballet repertoire and look to something that hadn’t really been done before – at least not in her medium.

Welcome to the wonderful Wizard Of Oz, which, to Powell’s knowledge, has only been attempted as a ballet once before. That was in Oklahoma, and she’s pretty sure nobody from Savannah ever sat in that audience.

The SAA version of The Wizard of Oz is closer to L. Frank Baum’s original story than the beloved MGM musical.

The dancers in this weekend’s production range in age from 1st through 12th grades. Powell created the choreography herself, along with Christine Shawl, Aimee Long, Karen Burns, and others.

Will Dorothy be wearing ruby red ballet shoes? There’s only one way to find out.

If I hear Wizard of Oz and “ballet” in the same sentence, I get a real uncomfortable image of Bert Lahr in tights. How does this lend itself to a ballet?

Christina Powell: We’ve pretty much just adapted the whole story into a ballet with lots of pantomiming and lots of dancing that resembles the traits of each of the characters.

So we’ve figured out a creative way to make the lion look like he’s lacking courage, and the Tin Man to look kind of robotic, and the Scarecrow looks loosey–goosey with no brain. It was quite a creative experience, and we’ve had to put a lot of brains together between myself and a lot of the other choreographers. And the students as well, to make this story read from the audience’s perspective. That’s been the hardest job, I guess.

So there is no dialogue? No snappy one–liners?

Christina Powell: There is no dialogue; it’s all done through pantomime and dancing, communication through the body.
 There’s a lot of production elements we’re using to help us tell the story – special lighting, fog, and snow for the poppies. So there are some special effects and other productions to assist us in telling the story.

Tell me about your dancers.

Christina Powell: All of the lead characters come from our company class. These are our most talented, dedicated students – it’s an audition–only course. However, all of the dance majors at Savannah Arts Academy are in this show. We have about 80 dance majors, all they’re all in the show.

In addition to that, we have some dancers from Bloomingdale Elementary School, Gasden, Shuman and Coastal middle schools. So it’s a lot of students.

Are you using the famous music – the songs everyone knows – or is it different?

Christina Powell: We’ve kind of mixed it up. Since ballet is normally performed to classical music, I wanted to continue with that tradition. I didn’t want to use the music from the movie; however, I did want to give the audience a taste of some of the songs we’re used to hearing when we think of Wizard of Oz.

For example, “Over the Rainbow” is kind of a theme song, and there are some other really recognizable ones, and found some orchestrated versions. So in the ballet, you will hear “Over the Rainbow,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” but other than those few we’ve put together a collection of classical music that we think fits the storyline.

Each of the characters has a solo when Dorothy meets them, so we found a classical piece of music that fits each of them.

I guess the theme of the show is going home, or some sweet place, or somewhere over the rainbow. I couldn’t imagine doing Wizard without “Over the Rainbow.” Because that’s kind of the whole theme.

‘The Wizard of Oz’

Where: Savannah Arts Academy, 500 Washington Ave.

When: At 7 p.m. April 29–May 1; at 2:30 p.m. May 2

Tickets: $6–$15

Information: (912) 201–5000.