By Bridgette M. Redman
Drive-ins were king a few generations ago, but the pandemic is bringing them back — not just for movies.
The Pasadena Civic Ballet is performing its spring story ballet, “The Wizard of Oz,” outdoors at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse parking lot with the audience in cars, able to attend one of multiple performances between Friday, March 12, and Sunday, March 14.
The performances mark exactly one year from the time they had to close their studio because of COVID-19.
“It is symbolic of somewhere over the rainbow,” said Zoe Vidalakis, one of the company’s three co-artistic directors.
“There is hope for all of us. Our dancers are really grateful we are still doing a performance, albeit outdoors.”
Cars are parked in a half circle around a raised stage and there is a lower stage so storytelling can take place in two areas at once.
Tickets are $45 per passenger in a vehicle. Those tickets buy entrance to the parking lot for a live one-hour performance. It also includes a “Picnic in Oz” munchin’ box catered by the San Marino Café with themed food such as “Over the Rainbow” fruit kebobs. Audiences can also purchase a bucket of Emerald City cotton candy.
Populating the Yellow Brick Road
For the spring show, the company reached out to other nonprofits and local businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. They are working with several different local eateries and coffee shops as part of the Wizard of Oz experience, including Bone Kettle, Vanilla Bake Shop and Coffee and Plants.
They’re sharing that story with local bloggers and influencers who have been supportive of the restaurant industry or the arts to get the word out about the partnerships. The social campaign is #followtheyellowbrickroad and features artists from the ballet popping up at Pasadena establishments enjoying food, refreshments and takeout.
“We’re promoting hope and healing on Pasadena’s road to recovery as we continue to uplift our very own Oz in Pasadena,” said Gina Baffo, the ballet’s marketing and public relations manager.
Personalizing the classic story
Baffo said when the ballet takes on children’s stories like “The Wizard of Oz,” it tries to make it its own. One of the unique features in this ballet is guest artists in residence Petra Conti and Eris Nezha’s rendition of the rainbow.
Baffo said they were looking to bring something unique to the ballet. The artistic directors, Vidalakis and Diane De Franco Browne, settled on the idea of the rainbow coming to life.
The husband-and-wife team then created the choreography for it and Baffo filmed them throughout the city, delighting passers-by. They started at city hall and did a “follow the rainbow” segment that brought them back to the Playhouse.
“Pasadena has always been our version of Oz,” Vidalakis said. “That’s our playground. That’s where we find our pot of gold. It felt fitting to dance (at city hall) and we’re really happy to have (Conti and Nezha) originating a role for this ballet. Their movement is stunning.”
They are taking advantage of their space to do site-specific choreography. They’ll have dancers creating the yellow brick road in comic fashion and a parade-like dance through the rows of cars that connects with the audience.
Responding to grief
Pasadena Civic Ballet dancers are mourning the death of longtime ballet master Craig Williams, who died from brain cancer. He taught at the ballet for more than 30 years, before that performing with the American Ballet Theatre during Baryshnikov’s era and with the Joffrey Ballet.
His widow, Denise Moses, who is herself an actress and a dancer, will star as the Witch of the East.
“Denise performing the witch is a beautiful gesture in extending her husband’s legacy of shaping young dance artists, which he had continued to do during his illness and throughout the pandemic,” Baffo said.
“It uplifts us that she’s part of the family, performing and giving her some joy during really dark times,” Vidalakis said.
Feeding the community’s soul
“The Wizard of Oz” will be the company’s second outdoor ballet, behind December’s “The Nutcracker.” They’ve been rehearsing outdoors since summer in gazebos they constructed for dancers and classes. “The Nutcracker” was an educational experience.
“The feedback we got from ‘The Nutcracker’ — from people who had never been to one of our other shows and from people who had been to every one of them — is that they were enchanted,” Vidalakis said.
“They had an amazing time with their family, connecting and watching the dancers. They couldn’t believe the level of artistry and the food was delicious. They were honking. They were happy. There were no cars in front of them. They loved the parade at the end, loved the lifts, the characters, the storytelling and the music.”
The response reminded the company of the importance of art, especially in this time when patrons are yearning for it.
“We have a renewed sense of appreciation for everything,” Baffo said. “We can no longer take anything for granted.”
Vidalakis added, “We are happy to be bringing our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to the community.”
Pasadena Civic Ballet’s “The Wizard of Oz”
6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, March 12; 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 13; and 1 p.m. (sold out), 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 14. Parking lot opens 30 minutes before showtime.
San Gabriel Mission Playhouse Lot, 320 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel
$45 per passenger