On June 4, 2022, Amherst Ballet successfully presented its original show, “The Mask of Zora” at the auditorium of Amherst Regional High School. It was AB’s first on-stage performance after two years of reduced activities under the pandemic. It was also the first major production for the Artistic Director, Madeleine Bonn, since she assumed the position in fall of 2019.
“The Mask of Zora” is about a little girl called Zora who gets bullied and struggles with self-confidence in school despite her intelligence. She dreams of having the ability to perform to her full potential. Through forces unknown she acquires a magic face mask that gives her the power to excel in all her subjects and overcome difficult social scenarios. On the last day of exams, however, her magic mask goes missing. Tasked with overcoming her fears without it, Zora taps into her own strength and agency. To her own astonishment, she performs just as well without it. She realizes in the end, that it was never the mask; it was her own courage, intelligence, and determination that got her through all of it.
Madeleine first got the idea for the show amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “I wanted to do something that both referenced the masks we wear to protect against illness, as well as how we wear masks metaphorically in our daily lives. There was something profound to me in that duality of meaning,” says Madeleine.
The cast of the show was relatively younger than usual. Hezekiah Sims was the only graduating high school senior this year. Summing up his 9 years of training, Hezekiah demonstrated his athletic artistry in “Napoli,” a variation from Bournonville’s ballet filled with difficult jumps and turns, that he danced in the first part preceding “The Mask of Zora.” And his talents as a performer shone even more brilliantly in his role as the evil math teacher in “Zora.” His haughty posture, hysterical laughs, and menacing jumps made this vampiric nemesis of Zora come to life. He also played a blonde female bully.
Zora was double-casted by Sophie Michel (14) and Meriel Sims (13), both of whom beautifully expressed Zora’s struggle, astonishment, bewilderment, and joy through vivacious dancing.
The cast also included many young dancers who hung on through weeks of rehearsals and helped to add charming moments to the show.
Against the soundtrack of “The Mask of Zorro,” Madeleine’s choreography integrated elements of flamenco into ballet. As always, she scattered comedic scenes throughout the show, while sending a profound, empowering message to the audience. She also used colors and spatial arrangements effectively, creating interesting geometric shapes on stage with dancers.
It was very refreshing for both dancers and audience to have an in-person stage experience after two years of online performances. Hopefully, we can have more of this for years to come.