Ballet Theatre's fresh, eclectic direction

Performance shows group has moved to a new level

Review

Howard Live

February 26, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ballet Theatre of Maryland artistic director Dianna Cuatto proved last weekend that it is possible to offer an eclectic program with something for everyone that contains enough substance to satisfy the most demanding balletomane.

Cuatto presented the neoclassicism of a "Grande Tarantella," its classic elements punctuated by dancers' rhythmic tambourine playing to enliven this high-spirited Italian dance. This was followed by the Celtic "Dawn Songs," which fused classic dance with aspects of Riverdance, where rhythmic clapping by the audience was encouraged.

The first half ended with the experimental "3x3xThirdstream," which featured classical jazz with swing, tap and blues, tied together with costumes simulating the cutout figures of artist Henri Matisse.

Each of these dances demonstrated that under its new director, Ballet Theatre of Maryland has moved to a more demanding and liberating level, revealing a freshness and sense of fun.

Partnering was enhanced by spectacular lifts that required tremendous skill and strength from both partners. The tarantella was a joyous Italian festival.

Springing from a reliance on classical technique that lent vigor and form, the Celtic dance was livelier and fresher than the phenomenally popular Riverdance that it briefly evoked.

The athleticism of the swing and jazz dance in "3x3xThirdstream" lent high energy, surprise and joyousness. The dancers seemed at home in this medium, with Anmarie B. Touloumis dancing as if she'd been freed of classic constraints to discover movie musicals as she simulated tap-dance movements. Her dance was synchronized with the sound of off-stage tap-dancing supplied by Cuatto.

The evening ended with a spectacular "Tango Dramatico" danced to the haunting music of Astor Piazzolla. In telling a story of seduction, melancholy and oblivion, the dance combined the tango's sensuality with ballet's classic fluidity.

Among the cast of spectacular dancers, Aaron Hutto was outstanding, moving as if she had control of each muscle group, adding athletic grace to her imposing stage presence.

As in earlier numbers, dancer Ramon Gaitan impressed with his athleticism, partnering skills and lifts.

The combined grace and strength exhibited by male and female dancers added up to pairings that were not your mother's pas de deux, but breathtaking dance sure to entice any adventurous fan.

Making this program even more impressive Sunday was the fact that one of the principal dancers - ballet master Blake Beardsley, who had been slotted to dance in every number - was sidelined by an injury suffered at Saturday's performance.

It is a tribute to artistic director Cuatto that she was able to call upon out-of-town dancers Joshua Dobbs, Jayson Douglas and Justin Deschamps to fill in on less than a day's notice. Despite misfortunes, the company proved that it is tightly knit and able to meet challenges with flexibility and strength.

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