Toledo Ballet weaves contemporary parables with Tales of Grimm

. April 19, 2017.
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Ballet suffers from the same image problem that a lot of classic arts do in the modern age— people think they don’t move fast enough. We’re a fast-paced society, too interested in our phones. But modern ballet includes elements of raw emotional power coupled with dramatic and intense allegories speaking to a higher truth. Modern ballet isn’t boring, it’s edgy and revealing. It incorporates a variety of styles and visual elements that add flair to whole production. Modern ballet is beautiful, artistic— and exciting! So where can you find modern ballet in Toledo?

This exciting concept is exactly what Michael Lang is creating and choreographing at the Toledo Ballet. While his wife, Lisa Mayer, the Toledo Ballet Studio’s artistic director, handles the classics— like the annual Nutcracker ballet, Lang, the resident choreographer and director, is free to develop original material.

Characters come to life

Debuting on April 29 is Tales of Grimm, the director’s modernized take on the fabled folk stories of The Brothers Grimm. Broken into vignettes, each classic tale has been contemporized to cope with modern issues and connected through a fun fourth wall-breaking narrative that invokes an awareness of the audience. The characters themselves emerge from the stories to exist in the real world. And at the forefront of the modern issues being faced is this sort of disconnect between society and another endangered classic art: books. “In a haste to not lose this idea of books, [the Grimm Brothers] rush back to this huge book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that they have, and they start to rewrite all their stories to fit modern society,” Lang explained, showing off a few of the props for the forthcoming performance.

Included in the mix was an ornate gazebo, strung up with braided locks of rope, representing Rapunzel actress Semira Warrick’s lengthy hair and a conference table that will serve as the set piece for Rumpelstiltskin’s impassioned performance. “There’s a very percussive number, and he just pounds away at the table,” said Lang of Rumpelstiltskin actor Phillipe Taylor. “When I read Rumpelstiltskin, I thought, ‘You can say what you want about Rumpelstiltskin, but he did do the work.’”

Choreographer/Director Michael Lang shows off the set piece for Rapunzel’s dance

Choreographer/Director Michael Lang shows off the set piece for Rapunzel’s dance

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“I would classify what we’re doing under the genre of dance theater,” Lang said, explaining his modernized performances that previously include adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. “There won’t be any pointe shoes in this show. It’s all barefoot, it’s all contemporary.” And while Tales of Grimm is ultimately a family-friendly performance, the stories contained within hew closely to the original tales put forth by the occasionally macabre Grimm Bros. These aren’t the Disneyfied translations one might otherwise expect from the former dancer-turned-director who was one of the original cast members of Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. “I don’t save [Red Riding Hood] in the end. I feel like with this message, it needs to be a message. This doesn’t always end well. I’ve got a lot of lighthearted moments as well, but there are a lot of moments that make people sit back and go, ‘Oh wow.’”

The end goal

“I’m on this kind of quest, and I think that’s why the theme of this show has turned out like it has, to get people to put their phones down for a little bit and get back to theater and art,” said Lang. “ Dance is always a tough sell, but this is for everybody, not just the people that love ballet.”

“I never would have dreamt that I’d have a playground like this in Toledo, Ohio. I thought we’d come here and teach dance and it would be what it was. But I feel like I’m working with a small professional company. What these kids can do dancewise, and what they give you artistically, it’s way beyond my wildest dreams.”

The Toledo Ballet offers several styles of dance, for beginners or those who would like to become professionals. For more information on the studio, call them at 419-471-0049 or visit toledoballet.net.

Tales of Grimm runs (7:30pm) Saturday, April 29 and (2pm) Sunday, April 30, at the Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St. $18-$38. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 419-242-2787 or visit valentinetheatre.com.