Oz – The Magic In Us by Joy Alpuerto Ritter

Podewill, Berlin
March 27, 2023

Made for Tanzkomplizen, a Berlin production studio dedicated to bringing dance to the stage for a young audience, Joy Alpuerto Ritter’s Oz – The Magic In Us (Oz – Der Zauber in Uns) was inspired by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. But while it maybe addressed to children and teenager, it is also interesting for adults, being a dance journey for all those who question and ponder about the concept and feeling of what and where is home.

On stage are the four characters of the original story: Dorothy (Alba De Miguel Fuertes), the Scarecrow (Liam Wustrack), the Tin Man (Joshua Nsubuga) and the Cowardly Lion (Alpuerto Ritter herself). It opens with Dorothy lying on the floor on a dark stage surrounded by storm and chaos. A recorded female voice recites poetry, heard throughout the work, touching on themes such a friendship, sense of belonging and direction in life.

Alba De Miguel Fuertes (Dorothy) and Liam Wustrack (Scarecrow)
in Oz – The Magic In Us
Photo Dieter Hartwig

As in the book, Dorothy is lost and looking for a way to get home. In her search, she meets the other three who come with familiar traits. The Scarecrow shows her various and contrasting paths. Without a brain and very wobbly, Dorothy feels he is somehow as lost as she is. The Tin Man has no heart, but Dorothy and the Scarecrow empathise with and hug him, allowing him to get one. From being stiff he becomes flexible, smiley and vitalised. The Lion is scared of everything and a coward.

Their relationship becomes complicated as they travel together. Despite that, they support each other and find real connection, made clear in powerful and absorbing moments when they dance altogether fully in unison. And why not? After all, they are all on a journey. They are all, for one reason or another, in the search of something or somewhere that feels like home, a place to belong to. At the same time, each is on an inward exploration; an excursion within themselves to find what and where home is. Inevitably, this leads to unease, conflict, questions and doubts.

The four dancers, and a red shoe, who at times embodies Dorothy’s dog and at others a magical tool journey into the unknown, which reveals itself in pleasant and unpleasant forms. They deal with fear and exclusion. They question hierarchies and experience what feeling lost and lonely really means. Questions arise. What symbolises the home? How can someone find themself in times of crisis, particularly when away from home and everything that this represents? Is it possible to find home within ourselves?

l-r: Liam Wustrack (Scarecrow), Alba De Miguel Fuertes (Dorothy),
Joy Alpuerto Ritter (Lion) and Joshua Nsubuga (Tin Woodman)
in Oz – The Magic In Us
Photo Dieter Hartwig

It is a very prescient theme for many nowadays, and maybe always was. Home is represented by different things for each and everyone. Home can be where we grew up or where we moved to as adults. Home can be a feeling, a visual memory, a smell, a sound, a landscape, a physical location. Home can be doing an activity. Home can be related to certain people, or maybe just to one person. Home can change with time. Nevertheless, as Alpuerto Ritter coveys in Oz – The Magic In Us, the safest and most reassuring place to feel home is to find it in ourselves.

In her research looking for material that would appeal to young audiences, Alpuerto Ritter recalled the classic 1939 MGM musical film, which she saw as a child, and that she says empowered her. Reflecting on the concept of ‘elsewhere,’ she took inspiration from it to explore choreographically the concept of home as an ambiguous place that people long from the moment they set out on their own and face life as individuals.

Oz – The Magic In Us may be a conceptual dance journey but it’s also a visual one. Hip-hop, breakin’ and modern dance meet contemporary dance and mime. All flow into each other to organically, coming together in choreography that is diverse, flows, and is full of energy. The melting pot of styles affirms the fluid connection between each and allows one to see the expressive potential in all of them.

Alpuerto Ritter herself moves with effortless virtuosity and precision across dance forms and superbly embodies the Lion. De Miguel Fuertes, Wustrack and Nsubuga are equally precise and exact in their execution. It really is a work that pulls you in and is a pleasure to watch.

Having witnessed the children’s’ emotional reactions during the show, it was interesting to see how participative they were in the conversation with the dancers afterwards. It completely reinforced my thoughts about just how important it is to expose youngsters to dance in various ways, and to give them opportunities to talk about it. From their feedback it was clear how much they enjoyed it and how impactful and beneficial it was as it ignited reflection, curiosity, questions, interpretation, engagement, enthusiasm, and even a few hints of criticism.