Ballet company from Annapolis joins celebration

Vivat!: Dancers will perform as part of Baltimore's tribute to the arts and culture of St. Petersburg, Russia.

February 20, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As part of "Vivat! St. Petersburg," Baltimore's salute to the Russian city's 300th birthday, Baltimore Museum of Art has launched the exhibitions Art of the Ballets Russes and The Brilliance of Bakst, illustrating the Russian ballet company's profound influence on music and art.

Between 1909 and 1929, music and dance leapt forward into uncharted artistic regions under ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, with his collaborator artist Leon Bakst's costume and set design keeping pace.

Now, the Annapolis-based Ballet Theatre of Maryland, the state's only full-time professional ballet company, is joining in the "Vivat!" celebration, through partnerships with BMA and Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

For two performances, the company will bring the richness, beauty and excitement of BMA's exhibit to life, using a trio of noted choreographers. Peter Anastos, Carol Bartlett and Alex Ossadnik have created works that will be danced to music by Sergei Prokofiev, Modest Mussorgsky and Igor Stravinsky.

Bartlett, artistic director of Peabody Dance for the past 14 years, said she was "inspired by the bold, rich and colorful motifs of Bakst's illustrations. I wanted to reincarnate some of the Ballets Russes dance characters in Muses with Prokofiev. This presented a problem musically because I needed a variety of textures to create lots of color in the choreography."

With the help of Peabody colleague Michael Kannen, director of chamber music, Bartlett found Prokofieff's "Quintet Op. 39," a textural work allowing her to evoke familiar dance characters from the early Ballets Russes era, including Firebird, Scheherazade, L'Apres midi d'un Faune and Petrushka.

Originally titled Trapeze, Prokofieff's work is scored for a midsize chamber ensemble, and Kannen has assembled one composed of Peabody students. Dance student Sara Paul, 15, trained at Peabody since early childhood, will make her debut with BTM's company of professional dancers.

For his ballet Nijinsky, choreographer Ossadnik was inspired by the life of the most famous male dancer of the 20th century -- Vaslav Nijinsky, whose career was cut short by schizophrenia.

Ossadnik does not dwell on the fame of Nijinsky but rather the dancer's devotion to work. Ossadnik's concept is to display aspects of Nijinsky's thoughts, "a mindset that reveals what he might have remembered at one instant during his illness."

Choreographer Anastos returns to Ballet Theatre of Maryland, which began its season last fall with his innovative ballet of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and revived Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet.

Pleased to be a part of "Vivat! St. Petersburg," Anastos said, "It is interesting how Stravinsky in Pulcinella Suite retained the baroque elements of 18th-century Italian composer Pergolesi's work, but made it jazzy," Anastos said.

In Pulcinella, we find a clown who is always getting into trouble, and right now in Anastos' view, "we all need a little laugh. Pulcinella has a series of adventures -- at one point he even fakes a suicide."

The ballets "Pulcinella," "Nijinsky" and "Muses with Prokofiev" will be danced in BMA's 300-seat theater. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. March 1 and 3 p.m. March 2. Tickets cost $41 and can be ordered by calling the BTM box office, 410-263-2909.

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