Ballet Theatre brings fresh take to classic `Nutcracker'

review

Arundel Live

December 16, 2005|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Packing all the nostalgia that any family could wish, Ballet Theatre of Maryland's production of the classic Nutcracker ballet avoids being weighted down by familiarity, and instead seems remarkably fresh and free of any rote movement.

The original choreography by Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto, which premiered last season, seems much-improved by adequate rehearsal that enabled her to perfect every scene danced by her professional troupe and well-prepared students.

And, continuing a partnership that enters its third season, J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and Chorale add their talents at selected Nutcracker performances. On opening night, Green and the orchestra brought freshness and drama to the music by Tchaikovsky that is known so well.

The Nutcracker tells the story of young Clara, who receives a nutcracker as a Christmas gift. In her dream, the nutcracker turns into a prince who accompanies her to magical kingdoms of snow and sweets and dreams.

From the Ballet Theatre's opening scene, where the use of scrim lends a dreamlike quality to the wondrous kingdoms of snow and sweets, the sets add to the production's magic. The costumes transform the dancers into fairy tale-like flowers, cookies and mice as well as regal ballet royalty.

As is her custom, Cuatto double-casts the principals with a few roles portrayed by the same dancers at all performances. Also following her tradition, Cuatto fills each scene with spirited dancing that is never rote, with moments of whimsical humor and free-spirited joy.

On opening night, Jennifer Yackel danced the role of Clara nearly flawlessly, transforming from the charming girl in the first scene delightedly accepting the nutcracker gift to a lovely young woman joyously discovering love with her nutcracker prince.

BTM ballet master Bryan Skates, in whom Yackel expresses a fearless trust, dances the prince in all performances. He brings a spirited vigor and assurance to the role, along with superb partnering skills.

Albert Kessler dances the role of Herr Drosselmeier at all performances - on opening night demonstrating his dramatic expertise with cape flourishing while conveying the warmth and mysterious qualities of the enigmatic character.

Alexis Decker was a lovely Dew Drop Fairy. Christi Bleakly and Christopher Pennix brought warmth and skilled dancing to their roles as the Snow Queen and King.

The Spanish segment was a highlight as danced by Anmarie Touloumis and Pennix, with the Arabian and Chinese segments also noteworthy.

The well-rehearsed children offered surprising professionalism throughout the ballet - dancing as mice, cookies, snowflakes or little sugar plum fairies.

Performances danced to recorded music will be offered at 7 p.m. tomorrow and at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday with a Sugar Plum Fairy Party at 3:30 p.m. free with a ticket stub from any performance this weekend.

To order family discount tickets, call Maryland Hall at 410-263-5544 or order online at www. marylandhall.org.

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