Louder applause when arts groups unite

The resident companies at the Maryland Hall see benefits to performing together - something done infrequently


Artistic partnerships among the four resident companies at Maryland Hall have been few and far between. But the Christmastime efforts of the Ballet Theatre of Maryland and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and Chorale are demonstrating how such relationships can be mutually beneficial.

The ballet and chamber orchestra groups have teamed up for the past three Decembers to perform The Nutcracker, and the camaraderie that has developed between the largest arts group at Maryland Hall and the state's largest professional classical dance company has begun to rub off in other ways.

In October, chorale music director J. Ernest Green invited ballet artistic director Dianna Cuatto to choreograph a dance that could be executed in minimal stage space. Cuatto managed to choreograph on a stage packed with chorus, orchestra and soloists an expressive work for dancers Christi Bleakly, Joshua Lenihan, Bryan Skates and Anmarie Touloumis, adding an extra dimension to the chorale's memorable performance of Pippin.

But the partnership is at its most vibrant for the performances of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. The groups joined up again, Dec. 9-10. The ballet has gained a heightened emotional intensity and drama as the live music has enriched the dancers' art.

Members of the Annapolis Chorale "have already come to think of our participation in The Nutcracker as one of our own holiday traditions," spokeswoman Katherine Hilton said. "The more we work with the ballet folk - from Dianna to all the dancers - the more we like them."

Green said the chorale-ballet partnership's history dates back about 14 years to when the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra played for the ballet in founding director Edward Stewart's Carmina Burana.

"In addition to Carmina Burana, we did several things together and Eddie wanted us to do The Nutcracker together," Green said, "but the usual money restrictions prevented it and later Eddie's illness prevented it."

A Nutcracker partnership between the Ballet Theatre of Maryland and Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and Chorale became a reality with the arrival of Cuatto in June 2003 to succeed the late Stewart.

In an article published in July 2003, Cuatto said, "I'm planning to use Ernie Green and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra for two Nutcracker performances. He seems to be one of the more open people in terms of cooperation. We are such a small voice that the more united we stand, the better for the whole arts community."

An annual weekend sampler series brought the four companies - the ballet, the chorale, the Annapolis Opera and the Annapolis Symphony - together about two decades ago, Green said. But competitive spirit and financial constraints have apparently curtailed many collaborative efforts.

Cuatto said she and Green share a similar artistic vision and see the value of artistic collaboration.

"We both believe in making art accessible to more people and being open and creative in reaching both traditionalists and new audiences," Cuatto said. "There is always a powerful language in the arts - a power in the expression that is magnified when more than one art form is joined in a collaborative effort."

Green said he also sees the benefits of a team approach.

"In conducting ballet, there's an extra element of having to watch the dancers," he said. "Cover conducting Tchaikovsky for the National Symphony Orchestra and pit conducting the full Nutcracker ballet in Maryland Hall has given me a new appreciation of Tchaikovsky's effortless brilliance beyond the guilty pleasure of his music. Doing Act I made me think differently about Tchaikovsky's greatness by adding another dimension, giving me greater appreciation of something subtle along with emotionally splashy."

Cuatto said she is looking forward to more joint efforts next year, the first to occur in February at the Mozart Festival.

"We have been planning to create new and exciting collaborations between our organizations," she said. "From Nutcracker to Pippin to Mozart to Bernstein, we have a vision of different ways we can collaborate with our art. And we are also looking at different ways that we might pool our resources to help both groups forge ahead."

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