Ballet company opens season in style

Dance: Ballet Theatre of Maryland moves in new and exciting directions in its opening performance of the 2004-2005 season.


Arundel Live

October 28, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Artistic director Dianna Cuatto began Ballet Theatre of Maryland's 2004-2005 season at new artistic heights in the neo-classic "Italian Symphonette" and innovative "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Her choreography for the performances Friday and Saturday at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts challenged and showcased the dancers, moving the company in exciting new directions.

Felix Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony" is a romantic work that evokes the color of the Italian landscape. This was reflected in Cuatto's choreography, created in 2001 to honor choreographer George Balanchine.

Cuatto excels at creating ever-changing dance kaleidoscopes that flow with natural grace and evolving beauty. The company's corps de ballet projected strength and vigor, as personified by soloists Jamie Skates, Anmarie Touloumis, and Aaron Hutto - each combining control and fluidity to produce on-stage charisma.

Equally impressive was the partnering of lead couple Jessica Fry and Ramon Gaitan, later mirrored by Jennifer Yackel and Justin Deschamps, Alexis Decker and Bryan Skates. The couples combined athleticism and grace with precision.

The major work on the program was Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a Halloween season offering of such formidable choreographic demands and scope that it proved Ballet Theatre of Maryland's most ambitious production yet. Cuatto's ballet brought life to Irving's ghostly tale of Ichabod Crane and his love for Katrina and competition with Brom Bones.

The nonstop action and magical special effects of "Sleepy Hollow" were combined with fast-pacing, intense energy and innate good humor. Actor Garrett Brooks served as narrator, telling the story before the closed curtain with the help of ghosts, elves, and winged fairies, and with children adding charm.

As is her custom, Cuatto featured different soloists at each performance. On Friday, Deschamps danced the role of Ichabod Crane; Gaitan danced the role Saturday. Skates danced as Brom Bones at both performances. Yackel danced Katrina on Friday, Christi Bleakly on Saturday. A roster of fine dancers took on supporting roles.

Skillful lighting enhanced the drama, and marvelous effects were obtained by moving swaths of silk across the stage, lending an atmospheric element.

New company member Deschamps danced with sensitivity and power to create a multi-dimensional Ichabod Crane. Deschamps excels at combining strength and a joyous lyricism in his pas de deux with Yackel's Katrina. He transformed into a formidable opponent of Skates' Brom Bones.

Yackel was lithe and graceful in her solo dances and expressive in her pas de deux with Deschamps and Skates.

The Headless Horseman, as danced by Skates, was fierce as he wielded two swords with great speed and skill, seeming downright dangerous to Deschamps' Ichabod.

Last year's promise was fulfilled in this performance, which was enthusiastically received by the largest audience to date.

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