After not performing in front of a live audience since December 2019, Gainesville Ballet Co.’s dancers will finally return to the spotlight for a production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Everybody is so thrilled and can’t wait to be on stage again,” Charlotte DeLong, co-lead ballet instructor, said. “Giving kids this opportunity to perform again is so huge.”
The show will run at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, April 2 and 10 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 3, inside The Venue at Friendship Springs in Braselton. To purchase a ticket, visit gainesvilleballet.org. Shows are limited to 300 guests. Chairs will be socially distanced, but family members and friends are allowed to group their seats together. Temperature checks will be conducted before people enter, and all patrons will be required to wear a mask while indoors.
Bailey Goss, a senior at Johnson High School who will star as Dorothy in the show, said before the pandemic hit in March 2020, the dancers were already gearing up for a spring showing of “The Wizard of Oz.” Unfortunately, their hopes to carry on the performance were crushed.
“We had worked so hard over the past three months,” Goss said. “And for all of it to fall apart at the last minute, it was pretty disappointing.”
DeLong said the performers were devastated by the news, many of which have been dancing since they were 3 years old. Even though schools and public spaces shut down, she said the Gainesville Ballet continued to find ways to reach members through Zoom classes.
Like many who have tried choreographed lessons over live video, DeLong quickly ran into several hurdles like internet connectivity and space for movement. However, she and her co-workers persisted, encouraging their students to dance in their homes.
“We’d have kids dancing in living rooms, bedrooms and in the garage,” she said. “These floor surfaces are not meant for dancing. We wanted to keep going because in dance, you can’t take a six-month break and pick it back up, and feel like you can start where you left off. They have to be in constant movement.”
In September 2020, DeLong said the ballet company started up its in-person lessons again, following protocols like mask-wearing and cleaning surfaces between groups. She said the instructors will share the classes over Zoom for those who are unwell or in quarantine.
“Dancing, teaching and talking with a mask on is incredibly challenging,” DeLong said. “But, when we first started in September, we could see in the kids’ faces, their spirits and their attitudes, that they were so excited to be back at the space together and see their friends.”
In November 2020, DeLong said the ballet company decided to revive “The Wizard of Oz.” She added that Diane Callahan, Gainesville Ballet’s artistic director of over 50 years, was thrilled that her nonprofit was able to produce the show.
Working with Jocelyn Buchanan, junior company director, DeLong made several changes to the show. Some dancers from last year were unable to perform again and others grew in their ballet abilities.
“We had to modify it to make it look seamless and beautiful,” DeLong said. “Everybody is a year older, so all of our dancers are better dancers this year than last year. We made the choreography more challenging because they’re stronger now. That is also so inspiring.”
Gainesville Ballet Co.’s “The Wizard of Oz”
When: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, April 2; 10 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 3
Where: The Venue at Friendship Springs, 7340 Friendship Springs Blvd., Braselton
How much: $15 per person
Tickets and more info: gainesvilleballet.org
The show will have over 50 dancers, ranging in age from 7 years old to adults.
Last year, Goss was set to play “Glinda the Good Witch,” but because of the shift in performers and her talent, she was able to land the role of Dorothy.
To become familiar with the lead, Goss said she has watched “The Wizard of Oz” movie multiple times. She noted that the performance follows the storyline of the film, incorporating its scenes into dance. Unlike acting where people enter the mindset of the character, she said ballet roles focus more on portrayal through motion.
“I’ve enjoyed it, she’s (Dorothy) definitely a character,” Goss said. “With dancing, you don’t have words to express, it’s movement and facial expression. We’re telling a story with our bodies.”
DeLong invites community members to attend the show not only for their own enjoyment, but for the pleasure of those performing.
“A majority of our dancers have been dancing their whole lives,” she said. “The fact that they haven't performed in so long, it brings this element of joy and just normalcy. They’re just so excited.”
Tickets must be purchased online at gainesvilleballet.org.