Dancers prepare to soar in Stravinsky's `The Firebird'


April 06, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,special to the sun

Although the Ballet Theatre of Maryland was still rehearsing its production of Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, I was struck last week by how finished the production seemed. The dancers at rehearsals fit their roles so well that they had already created almost fully faceted characterizations.

Despite the generally high quality of performances, the company has consistently struggled to attract the larger audiences it deserves. Perhaps this ballet -- a blazing "Firebird" that soars -- will prove a turning point.

The entire company expressed a genuine admiration of this ballet, which marked Stravinsky's entry into the dance world when it debuted in 1910 in Paris. The music captures the essence of a Russian fairy tale about a heroic prince, lovely princesses, an evil Medusa-like sorceress and the magical Firebird.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland Artistic Director Diana Cuatto called it one of her favorites.

"I was the first American ballerina to play the role of Princess Tsarevna in the first American production of this ballet, which premiered in 1968 at Ballet West," she said, and 20 years later she returned to the ballet to dance the Firebird role.

Cuatto finds her experience in The Firebird helps her teaching, which was apparent at the March 29 rehearsal in the graceful hand movements of Jessica Fry as the Firebird, who danced the role with a mix of vulnerability and fierceness.

The other principals were also well cast, with Alexis Decker conveying a regal poise combined with a fairy-tale romanticism as Princess Tsarevna, and Anmarie Touloumis as predatory, slithering Kastchei, a role usually danced by a male. Here, Touloumis made Kastchei a sensuous sorceress.

Dancing at rehearsal with all three ballerinas was ballet master Bryan Skates; he revealed his spectacular power with breathtaking partner lifts.

In addition to the dancers I saw at rehearsal will be Kathryn Carlson, who will alternate as Princess Tsarevna, and Jamie Skates, who will alternate as Katschei.

Other dances on the program will include two world premieres: a new work to Schubert's Songs, choreographed by Alvin Ailey Company's Keith Lee; and The Forgotten Path, a collaboration between Cuatto and Rob Levit, who composed music inspired by a quote from "The Course of Miracles," to be played live. Skates and Laura de Guia will alternate dancing the role of the Traveler.

De Guia and Joseph Alexander Villalobos will also dance to a neo-classical work with music by Rachmaninoff.

"Firebird" performances will begin at 7 p.m. April 21 and at 2 p.m. April 22 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 60 Chase St., Annapolis. For ticket prices and to order: 410-280-5640.

The BTM dancers will host a Firebird gala dinner dance and auction fundraiser at 7 p.m. April 20 at Loews Annapolis Hotel, 126 West St. Information: the BTM office, 410-263-8289, or e-mail

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