A timeless story that's still fresh

Ballet Theatre's `The Nutcracker' grows with the cast's skills

Theater review

December 15, 2006|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

The Nutcracker is a holiday treat that does not grow stale under choreographer Dianna Cuatto of the Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

Now in her fourth season as artistic director, Cuatto continuously tweaks to accommodate the growing dance skills of her cast, intent on perfecting every scene danced by her professional troupe and superbly-rehearsed students.

This year's budget prevented engaging J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra to supply live music at selected performances for a third consecutive year, but the production I saw Saturday succeeded despite being somewhat diminished in dramatic nuance.

The recorded music was carefully chosen to reveal all the essential elements of Tchaikovsky's beloved score. Based on an 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman, it describes events that follow when 12-year-old Clara receives a nutcracker for her Christmas birthday. In Clara's dream, the nutcracker turns into a prince who accompanies her to magical kingdoms.

The Ballet Theatre of Maryland captures that dreamlike quality from the opening scene, when Herr Drosselmeyer - danced by Albert Kessler - and his nephew are at far stage left shopping for Christmas gifts, and behind the shop we view the family living room through a scrim. The room comes alive as the stage is filled with dancers.

In fact, Cuatto fills every scene with spirited dancing that seems fresh, with moments of whimsical humor and joyousness, and surprises.

As is her custom, Cuatto double-casts and sometimes triples and quadruples the principals playing major roles with a few roles portrayed by the same dancers at all performances. An element of romance is another unique aspect of Ballet Theatre of Maryland: On opening night company newcomers Laura Camille de Guia danced Clara with her partner and fianc? Joseph Alexander Villalobos as the prince, while Bryan Skates, who alternates in the role of the prince, and his wife, Jamie Skates, together danced the Spanish couple soloist roles.

On Saturday, de Guia and Villalobos danced a fine classical pas de deux that featured de Guia's exquisite turns and fouettes and Villalobos' impressive elevations and leaps along with classically chivalric partnering.

Skates as the Snow King danced with such fire and excitement that he and Christi Bleakly's Snow Queen could have easily melted every icicle along with the hearts of most balletomanes at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

In a ballet brimming with star power, Arabian soloists Alexis Decker and Calder Taylor combine requisite grace and sensuality.

As for sheer beauty, it would be hard to top the female corps de ballet in the "Waltz of the Flowers" with Anmarie Touloumis' exquisite Dew Drop performance.

Performances continue tomorrow at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 and 430 p.m. For tickets call 410-263-5544.

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