Ballet troupe looks sharp in lively 'Excalibur'

Based on Arthur legend, new work features music written by local artist

Preview

March 31, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Tomorrow and Sunday, Ballet Theatre of Maryland will present a new ballet, Excalibur, based on Arthurian legend and choreographed by BTM artistic director Dianna Cuatto. From what I saw at rehearsal, this show is filled with spirit, romance, chivalry, sensuality and swordplay.

Ballet rehearsals provide an opportunity to witness dance art being created and are also a revelation for anyone who seriously works out. Intense ballet rehearsals demand a fitness level beyond merely extraordinary.

At last week's rehearsal, dancers endured a grueling workout that consisted of fight scenes for the men that made staged wrestling look tame, and stretching from the women that required incredible agility. BTM dancers met every demand with consummate grace. The choreography process -- described by Cuatto as "working with the music, dancers and movement" -- was fascinating to watch.

The mood was decidedly upbeat at this Excalibur rehearsal, presumably because of recent news of Cuatto signing a new contract with BTM. Asked about her current goals, Cuatto said, "I want the dancers to progress in the profession and to be better known outside of this immediate area."

Believing that dance should be accessible to everyone, Cuatto recalled that the company "had a great experience last year reaching the local Latino community with our Southwest Carmen doing a residency at Annapolis High School with Latino kids, and we have built on this."

"We routinely go to places where people can see us dance -- to Rotary Clubs, local restaurants and small businesses." Of her continuing goals, Cuatto said, "We continue to work with Young Audiences and hope to become part of the fabric of the state of Maryland to add to our home base in Annapolis."

Having established a successful collaboration with J. Ernest Green's Annapolis Chorale, the ballet company continues trying new ones. With Excalibur, Cuatto and her dancers for the first time are working with Maggie Sansone, the nationally acclaimed hammered dulcimer artist from the area.

In an e-mail message this week about their collaboration, Sansone said, "I am very excited about this opportunity. It's a thrill to have music from my recordings put to dance by a superb choreographer. I just came back from a rehearsal, and it touched me deeply to see one of my original compositions -- `The Seeker' -- put to dance because I visualized movement of some sort as I composed it and always felt it was suited to dance."

The Maryland Hall for Creative Arts performances, at 8 p.m. tomorrow and at 2 p.m. Sunday, will feature Cuatto's two-act Excalibur set in stylistic medieval, classical and contemporary dance form telling the tale through King Arthur's half-sister Morgan le Fay, whose tragic journey brings destruction and death. The forces of light against forces of darkness are brought to life through wizardry, magic, swordfights, knights and princesses. The drama is danced to live music composed by Sansone and performed by her on the hammered dulcimer, with Karen Ashbrook on the Irish flute, Andrea Hoag on the fiddle, Paul Oorts on guitar and accordion, and James Gummer on percussion.

Two other new pieces will be introduced: Beneath the Surface, choreographed by Jennifer Yackel, which explores the human character; and BTM ballet master Bryan Skates' abstract work set to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Sunday's performance will have some interactive parts where children can cheer their favorite knights and will be followed by a medieval festival from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Tickets are $40 each and can be purchased by calling Maryland Hall's box office at 410-263-5544 today only or at the theater one hour before either performance. Tickets for just the medieval festival at $8 each are also available through Maryland Hall's box office, 801 Chase St., Annapolis.

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