Ballet blends the new with the old

Tradition: The company has a new director, but in `Nutcracker' it remains true to its late founder.


Howard Live

December 18, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A treasured Christmas season tradition, Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet The Nutcracker, gained local significance at Maryland Hall last weekend.

The original choreography of Ballet Theatre of Maryland's late founder, Edward Stewart, was beautifully executed by a dedicated dance troupe that included 100 talented students.

Staged by ballet mistress Leslie Bradley, these performances marked a touching collaboration between the spirit of Stewart and the current artistic director, Dianna Cuatto.

The weekend performances also marked Cuatto's initial collaboration with J. Ernest Green, who conducted an unusually full-sounding Annapolis Chamber Orchestra.

Although the Ballet Theatre's performances over the past two seasons have featured live musical accompaniment, Green and his orchestra brought a new dimension to Tchaikovsky's enchanting score.

During the Snowflake Fairies' dance, the vocal artistry of the Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus expanded the musical drama.

Now that this long overdue collaboration is a reality, I hope Green's Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and Chorale will become a regular feature.

"This Nutcracker is a bittersweet experience, sad because it's the end of an era and sweet because we're moving on to something new and classy," said 18-year Ballet Theatre volunteer coordinator Joan Striegel.

Juliet Shore's costumes were lovely, including a previously unseen tutu for Clara.

The previously designed backdrops and scene curtain by Lynne Wilson and Jane Wingard made a charming picture.

With her strong new company, Cuatto double-cast several roles, alternating the roles of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy between Jessica Fry and Jennifer Yackel, both new with Ballet Theatre this season.

The Snow King is danced by Joshua Dobbs and ballet master Blake Beardsley. Jaime Lawton and Christi Bleakly share the role of the Snow Queen, and Beardsley and Al Kessler alternate as Herr Drosselmeier.

On Sunday, Beardsley danced a warm, sophisticated Drosselmeier, insouciant in flourishing his cape.

Beardsley also danced in the Spanish Divertissement with Anmarie Touloumis and Jamie Lawton.

The role of Clara was exquisitely danced with charming innocence and grace by Jessica Fry, who was brilliant in her pas de deux with Ramon Gaitan's Prince.

Dancing the role of the Prince at all performances, Gaitan delivered high excitement, exhibiting superb technique and strong athleticism, most apparent in leaps in which he seemed momentarily suspended in midair to add immense on-stage excitement.

As Mother Gigogne, Charlotte McNutt contributes another highlight.

Snow Queen Jaime Lawton joins Snow King Joshua Dobbs in a beautiful "Land of Snow."

Although there were a few missteps in the Arabian Divertissement, it contained much beauty, exoticism and excitement.

In general, any imperfections barely detracted from the generally high level of the performance.

The Nutcracker continues with performances accompanied by recorded music at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. Tickets: 410-263-5544.

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