Ballet's mixed menu offers grace, awkwardness under guest leader

Arundel Live

Review

April 17, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ballet Theatre of Maryland closed its season last weekend with a three-segment dance program of "gourmet fare" by guest choreographer Alex Ossadnik.

Of the appetizer (Anton Dvorak's "Bagatelles"), entree ( Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring") and dessert (Johann Strauss' "Postcard from Vienna") Ossadnik clearly saved the best for last.

Only in Ossadnik's romantic evocation of old Vienna were 10 dancers - twice the number used in the other segments - used to display notable beauty and grace, along with contrasting contemporary surprise touches, to convey what is essential to the undeniable artistry of ballet.

The opening work, danced to Dvorak's "Bagatelles, Opus 47," featured five ballerinas - Christi Bleakly, Sarah Cincotta, Kelly Hoenig, Jaime Lawton and Anmarie Touloumis - with a lone male dancer, Robert Michalski. Although Ossadnik had envisioned "relaxed motion about formation, beauty and a kaleidoscopic feeling," his work seemed somewhat disjointed and lacked smoothness.

Locked together in a line reminiscent of a cancan or a high-kicking Broadway chorus minus the kicks, the five female dancers conveyed more drill-like precision than high-spirited energy. Dancers were required to fit into preconceived patterns rather than having the choreography fit them.

Most movement was not body-friendly and tended to make the dancers appear awkward as they assumed prolonged ungainly positions. The routine often seemed to lack direction, with dancers appearing unable to make smooth transitions. Only in the trio danced by Cincotta, Michalski and Bleakly did "Bagatelles" largely achieve Ossadnik's expressed intent.

Ossadnik's "The Rite of Spring," danced to a two-piano version of Stravinsky's groundbreaking score, had little in common with Vaslav Nijinsky's riot-provoking 1913 version depicting the violent fertility rites of primitive pagan Russia. Again dancers were confined to ritualistic angular positions that seemed unnatural, coming across as more awkward than abstract.

Ossadnik's theme of dominance and power transfer was interesting in concept, but his focus was sometimes lost in details. Principal dancer Bat-Erdene Udval seemed so constrained by the angular movements that I longed to see him leap free to convey the sensuousness of spring. Indeed, there was little discernible sensuality or expression of rebirth apparent anywhere. Further, I found Bleakly, Cincotta, Lawton, and Touloumis dancing on pointe to be somewhat incongruous with Stravinsky's pounding syncopated rhythms.

Pianists Jacquelyn Helin and Stefan Scaggiari together delivered a virtuoso performance of Stravinsky's masterwork that conveyed the drama, sensuality and excitement of spring more fully than what was evoked by the dance.

Perhaps because of his European roots, however, Ossadnik delivered a thoroughly satisfying "Postcard from Vienna" despite the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's sometimes sounding thin.

The opening scene presented a lovely picture in silhouette of two large, ceiling-suspended horizontal barres that served as swings for the 10-member dance ensemble. A charming kaleidoscope of couples separated into groups that reformed into other couples gliding gracefully, with an added measure of fun and flirtation and humorous rejection of would-be partners.

The dance was often playful and filled with delightful innovations, such as the male dancers lifting and turning their partners in cartwheel fashion. In sum, this dance was pretty and accessible and a delightful ending to the evening.

This performance ended the 23rd season of Ballet Theatre of Maryland - a season dedicated to the company's late founder and artistic director Edward Stewart, who headed the company for 22 years.

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