`Little Women' in store at Maryland Hall

Ballet Theatre of Md. opens its 28th season with popular story of a 19th-century family


Arundel Live


Ballet Theatre of Maryland opens its 28th season tonight at Maryland Hall with Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto's newly choreographed story ballet, Little Women.

Louisa May Alcott's story, portraying 19th-century family life, possesses a lasting vitality that has endeared it to generations of readers. That, said Cuatto, makes it attractive as a story ballet.

Through dance, Alcott's coming-of-age story set in Civil War-era Massachusetts comes to life. The four March sisters -- Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy -- learn the hard lessons of poverty, and through their dreams, letters, illnesses and courtship, they find their individual destinies.

Danced to music from five different works by composer Patrick Doyle, Part 1 of Cuatto's ballet takes us to the time when Meg leaves her sisters to be married. Part 2 chronicles Jo's struggle to become a writer; Beth's compassionate nature, love of music, and tragic death; Amy's artistic pursuits and unexpected romance; and Meg's experiences as a wife and mother.

At a recent rehearsal, the four sisters' individual personalities were expressed through dance with Jamie Skates conveying Jo's tomboyish independence, and Alexis Decker expressive as beautiful Meg who wants to become an artist. Jessica Fry portrays the frail, compassionate Beth, and petulant kid sister Amy is well-played by Jennifer Yackel, who expressed a saucy playfulness in rehearsal.

Their mother, Marmee, is played by Anmarie Touloumis, who at rehearsal read a letter from her soldier-husband with a palpable longing and affection, conveying a mature dignity beyond her years.

A gamut of emotions was expressed through dance in other segments. Calder Taylor, introduced to the Ballet Theatre at the Summer Intensive Gala, displayed a magnetic style and strong partnering skills while cast as a poor but virtuous tutor who falls in love with and marries Meg.

Also new to the company, Joshua Lenihan exudes enthusiasm and energy while playing the obnoxious, exuberant Freddie Vaughn.

Christopher Pennix plays Death, who partners Beth.

"In Beth's death, the ballet will express a poignant spiritual climax," said Cuatto, who is beginning her third season at the helm of the company.

Watching the couples dance a high-spirited polka was exciting. Already the dancers slashed through lines to add a sharp edge and element of danger that is distinctive of Cuatto's choreography.

Apprentice Sarah Knoll-Gentry displayed versatility and a comic flair playing several roles. Brian Skates plays Theodore Lawrence (Laurie), a wealthy next-door neighbor who grew up with the March sisters and ends up with Amy after having an earlier crush on Jo.

"Skates captures the essence of both sides of Laurie's complex nature -- one side playful and artistic, the other conformist," Cuatto said. "He and Jo share these dualities and both eventually find balance."

Capturing literature in dance is hard, Cuatto said.

"Psychological challenges are more difficult to convey through dance, as are the complexities of inner relationships," she said. "Romance and joy or anything that elicits the simpler emotions is much easier to convey through dance than is the complexity of characters, whose interior thoughts and relationships interact with the exterior world."

For tickets, call 410-263-2909 or go to balletmaryland.org. Receptions will be held before and after tonight's 8 p.m. performance.

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