News Contributing Reviewer
Neglia Ballet Artists opened its 15th anniversary season Saturday afternoon in Shea’s Performing Arts Center with the often-performed Halloween favorite, “Baba Yaga.” The kid-friendly ballet – based on a Russian folktale and adapted for the stage by Neglia Ballet artistic director/choreographer Sergio Neglia – delighted the audience, many who came in Halloween costumes. With an easy-to-follow and spooky story, the production kept even the littlest of tykes on the edges of their seats.
In Neglia’s adaptation, young Misha, portrayed by Yuha Tomita, an exchange student from Japan, is a Cinderella type made to toil with housework by her ruthless stepmother (Angela Hastings). When Misha tears her dress horsing around with her father (Angel Diaz), she is sent out into the forest by her stepmother to find the village seamstress. There, she encounters a host of magical flora and fauna (mushrooms, flowers, woodland creatures) who dance for her. She also encounters the evil witch, Baba Yaga (Sergio Neglia), flying in a cauldron and swooping down to capture and imprison her. As Baba Yaga, Neglia performed with the energetic zeal of a world-class dancer. Costumed as a wart-nosed hag with long fingers and nails, Neglia’s animated, dramatic and sometimes humorous portrayal of the old witch stole the show.
Set to music by Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Glazunov and Grieg, the dark and sinister-looking production – with sets by David Butler and Mark DiVincenzo, lighting by Dyan Burlingame and costumes by Donna Massimo – was classic Disney on the scary scale with simplistic choreography that played to young audiences while nicely showcasing Neglia Ballet’s 50-plus cast members of mostly students.
Now a prisoner in Baba Yaga’s forest house perched on giant chicken legs and surrounded by skulls, Misha is tormented by dancing crows, led by the flexible Marie Keil, and a host of goblins and skeletons. Intending to eat her, Baba Yaga leaves Misha in the care of his apprentice (Elisabeta Neglia), a “mini-me” version of Baba Yaga who ends up being overrun in a failed rescue attempt by the flora and fauna, led by bumblebee Elizabeth Sam. The preteen Neglia as the apprentice was cute and captivating in her sprightly performance.
Back under Baba Yaga’s spell, Misha begs for her life to the unfeeling witch, who humorously pokes at her, then licks her finger as if tasting her captive. Neglia then ad-libs a bit, casting his gaze out into the audience, as if looking for others to eat – and taking the time to pantomime the scolding of an audience member taking unauthorized photos.
Tomita – apart from sometimes lacking flow between movement phrases, an issue much of the young cast struggled with – was a skilled technician and emotional actress whose performance as Misha proved endearing. The entertaining ballet came to a close when Misha’s father, while searching for her, is unwittingly led to his daughter by the bumblebee.
After a struggle with Baba Yaga, the father is knocked out, but the bumblebee and a quartet of birds, with fairylike powers, come to the rescue, subduing Baba Yaga and freeing the captives.
The defiant witch flies off in her cauldron in search of other unsuspecting victims.