By Steve Sucato
With the popularity of recent movies and television shows taking familiar storybook characters and inventing new storylines such as Hansel & Gretel being witch hunters and Peter Pan being an evil lad looking to harvest the “heart of the truest believer” on the TV series Once Upon a Time, it was only a matter of time before the dance world got onboard the alternate storyline train. Perhaps the first to do so in Northeast, Ohio is its newest professional dance company, Ballet Legato with their debut production, Red Riding Hood & the White Witches, an original take on the Brothers Grimm “Little Red Riding Hood” character. The company performs the ballet February 15 & 16 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts.
Founded in 2019 by former Ohio Dance Theatre principal dancer Jennifer Muselin, the mission of the North Ridgeville, Ohio-based troupe she says is to “introduce artistic and innovative repertoire from classical to contemporary works and connect with our community and familiarize them with the depth and relevance of dance as an art form.”
“Starting a professional ballet company has been on my bucket list for years,” says Muselin, Ballet Legato’s executive artistic director. “After leaving Ohio Dance Theatre I took a long hiatus from dance and now wanted to return to my passion.”
Conceived and choreographed by Muselin, the 2-act ballet is set in a small Irish village in the 1200’s and tells a story of manslaughter, human sacrifice and an eternal curse — You know, family-friendly entertainment…in a dark, Brothers Grimm kind of way.
“Our goal was to make sure the ballet wasn’t too scary and was appropriate for young audience members,” says Muselin.
Set to a music score Muselin compiled from movie soundtracks and video game tunes, the ballet incorporates a few themes found in Catherine Hardwicke’s 2011 motion picture Red Riding Hood such as taking place during a Blood Moon and involving Scarlett’s (Red Riding Hood) father Bron being a part time wolf.
In the ballet, Bron accidentally kills one of three white witches while hunting in the forest near his village and is cursed by the remaining witches to turn into a wolf with every full moon. To remain human the rest of the time he must sacrifice a young girl from the village to the witches. If he fails to do so, he then must sacrifice Scarlett, and failing that he will remain a wolf forever. The ballet then moves through various attempts to save Scarlett and her father from their unpleasant fates. Through plot twists that include Scarlett’s love interest Liam, the tale ramps up the tension and drama before coming to unexpected ending.
With this ballet audiences shouldn’t come expecting to see the familiar “Red Riding Hood” tale. The only thing they will recognize from the traditional tale is that “there will be a Red Riding Hood and she has a cape,” joked Muselin.
The 90-minute ballet will be performed by Ballet Legato’s 4-member troupe of Point Park University grads Natalie Atman, Megan Carcioppolo and Jennifer Milani along with former Dancing Wheels Company dancer Caleb Waybright. They will be joined by guest dancers Kassandra Lee, from Neos Dance Theatre as Scarlett, former Toledo Ballet dancer Domonique Glover as Bron and Wisconsin’s Kanopy Dance dancer Richard Oaxaca as Morrigan the Raven of Death along with 16 student dancers from Muselin’s JAM Dance Academy.
For a brand new ballet company having their introduction to audiences be a story ballet with the heart of a horror movie is a gutsy move. Nonetheless, Ballet Legato is forging a unique path forward for itself that is rather refreshing in an industry dominated by the rehashing of the same (albeit often great) tales over and over again.
Ballet Legato performs Red Riding Hood & the White Witches, 7 p.m., Saturday, February 15 and 2 p.m., Sunday, February 16. Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland. Tickets are $15-25. Tickets and information at balletlegato.org.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.