Dancing flowers and mice

"Nutcracker": A ballet theater and orchestra team up for several performances.

December 16, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On opening night of Ballet Theatre of Maryland's The Nutcracker, the combination of Dianna Cuatto's original choreography and the live music provided by J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and Chorale created a fresh, joyous and surprisingly exciting ballet.

Imaginative use of scrim in the sets added a dreamlike quality to the opening scene and created fantastic Kingdoms of Snow and Sweets that transported the audience back to childhood. Costumes transformed ballerinas into lovely flowers; children into cookies, mice and snowflakes; and older dancers into fairy-tale Arabians and Spaniards.

Cuatto again double-cast principals and turned children into professional dancers. Talented dancing filled every scene, along with Cuatto hallmarks of fast, incisive cutting between rows of dancers before merging into changing formations, expressing the director's unique joie de vivre.

For the second season, Ballet Theatre of Maryland is teaming up with Green and his orchestra for half The Nutcracker performances to establish a Maryland Hall partnership.

On opening night, Jessica Fry danced the lead role of Clara with charm and exquisite grace. Bryan Skates brought vigor and superb technique to his role of the Nutcracker Prince.

Albert Kessler danced the role of Herr Drosselmeier at all performances, adding drama -- and expert cape flourishing. Anmarie Touloumis proved a lovely Dewdrop Fairy. Snow Queen Jaime Lawton and Snow King Ramon Gaitan were magical.

The "Arabian Divertissement" was well-danced by Christi Bleakly and Adam Lanier, as was the Spanish segment by Jamie Skates and Gaitan.

Minor complaints include overuse of the smoke machine at the beginning of Act 2 and excessive running about by the children onstage. Traditionalists might object to cartwheels in the Arabian and Russian dances, and those not captivated by the children's cuteness might notice that a few lacked proper foot positioning. Such flaws hardly diminished the performance, which rates accolades for Cuatto and the dancers.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland will stage two Nutcracker performances with recorded music -- Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., with a Sugar Plum Fairy party at 3:30 p.m. Call Maryland Hall at 410-263-5544 to reserve seats.

Christmas music

The Annapolis Chorale and Annapolis Chamber Orchestra offered two "A Celebration of Christmas" concerts last week at Maryland Hall -- and Friday's sold-out performance required an added preview Thursday.

Soprano Amy Cofield sang an inspired Mozart's "Alleluia from Exultate Jubilate" and an exquisite "O Holy Night," plus a heartfelt "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

Featured guest reader was actor John Astin -- who teaches at his alma mater, the Johns Hopkins University. Astin's readings of Brother Heinrich's Christmas, A Visit From St. Nicholas, The Polar Express and Keeping Christmas were pure enchantment.

The program opened with an assortment of familiar carols in Jeff Tyzik's Holiday Moods suite, which the orchestra played well and the full Annapolis Chorale sang beautifully. Later, the orchestra offered a glowing medley of holiday pop tunes in Calvin Custer's "It's Christmastime."

The Annapolis Youth Chorus, led by Director Laurie J. Hays, offered an enchanting program that included David Eddleman's Hanukkah song, "Bidi Bom."

A final highlight occurred when the audience joined in singing familiar carols.

The Annapolis Chorale continues its celebration of Christmas this weekend, with two performances of Handel's Messiah at St. Anne's Episcopal Church tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets: 410-263-1906.

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