Ballet Theatre unites fresh and classical

Program succeeds with new `Seasons,' adaptation of `Sleepy Hollow'


October 26, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

Leaving Maryland Hall auditorium in Annapolis after the Ballet Theatre of Maryland performance Saturday, I saw Severna Park neighbor George Helwig, who confessed that he has "always been a dance nut from classical ballet to hip-hop" and had just enjoyed his first Ballet Theatre performance.

"I'm surprised at what a treasure the citizens of this state have in this company, and I can't understand why all these seats aren't filled," Helwig said.

Outside the auditorium, I relayed Helwig's comments to ballet aficionado Thea Pinskey.

"I know how he feels," she said. "They keep getting better all the time, and you just have to keep telling everybody."

Maryland's only professional dance company deserves the support of all dance enthusiasts, as does Ballet Theatre's artistic director Dianna Cuatto. She is in her fifth season with the company and is known for creating distinctive choreography to tell American classic stories in dance.

The weekend program consisted of a new work, The Seasons, choreographed by ballet master Bryan Skates, and Cuatto's story ballet The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Cuatto, who originally choreographed the story three years ago for the Ballet Theatre, added touches for this performance.

Skates, a native of Hawaii, first experienced the changing seasons when he was 22. He said he had always loved Alexander Glazunov's The Seasons and, after being "awed by the beauty and splendor of the seasons," decided to express those feelings through dance.

He also was drawn to this theme to honor the memory of his wife Jamie's mother, Jacqueline Durrwachter, who died in the spring.

Skates' work succeeds on several levels, starting with the hand-painted costumes created to express the four seasons for the lead dancers and the colors of nature that were repeated in the costumes worn by the corps de ballet.

Every dance movement seemed to fit the music, and together the dancers created changing kaleidoscopic patterns resembling the seasons. The natural flow in changing seasons is analogous to the evolving stages of life.

Some of the lifts were breathtaking, notably those in the Winter section by Alexis Decker with her partners David McAlister and Calder Taylor. Lyrical pas de deux were danced by Kelly Braga and Scali Riggs in "Spring" and by Margaret Hannah and Brian Walker in "Summer."

The dance team of Bryan and Jamie Skates combined unmistakable chemistry, trust and tenderness - all used to express the couple's combined remembrance of Jamie's mother.

After intermission, the mood changed with the retelling in dance of Washington Irving's classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, an apt story for the Halloween season.

My search for other ballets with this theme yielded little, and Cuatto said that hers is the only such work.

The tale is told fully through dance, although Cuatto uses a narrator. For the weekend performances, James Matthew was the narrator, adding charm and clarity to the story.

The story begins with the arrival in the sleepy town of the choir and schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, danced by Calder Taylor, who used a disarming gangly gait to capture Crane's essence. Taylor's Ichabod is soon captivated by Katrina Van Tassel, danced exquisitely by Kathryn Carlson.

Carlson commanded every scene and proved an ideal partner to Taylor and Bryan Skates, who played Brom Bones, Ichabod's rival for Katrina.

Skates clearly enjoyed the role of farmer/prankster Bones, dancing the combat scenes with vigor while teaming sensitively with Carlson's Katrina.

After telling his class the story of the Headless Horseman, Ichabod seems to daydream his way into the haunted forest, where trees move and strange creatures hide to create a frightening contrast to the comfortable little town of Sleepy Hollow, where Brom Bones and his gang destroy much of the schoolhouse.

In the darkened forest are strange horses and frightening ghosts in white that seem to float and soar (lifted and suspended in air by black-suited partners) while goblins attired in red create their own mischief.

After Katrina comforts Ichabod on his return from the forest, where he discovers the damage Bones has done to his schoolroom, a jealous Brom Bones tells his own Headless Horseman story.

Eventually, Katrina invites Ichabod to the outskirts of the haunted forest, where he tells her he loves her. But Katrina leaves Ichabod, who eventually meets the Headless Horseman.

Ichabod's fate is usually left nebulous, but in Cuatto's version, we see him move behind the Headless Horseman to indicate his demise. This ending seemed appropriate and convinced me that stories can sometimes be better told through dance.

Ballet premiere

The Performing Arts Association of Linthicum will sponsor the Ballet Theatre of Maryland in a special premiere of Celtic Christmas Suites, an original ballet choreographed by Cuatto. It will take the audience on a journey through the Celtic Book of Days from the autumnal equinox through the winter solstice.

Dancers will be accompanied by hammered dulcimer performer Maggie Sansone, who will be joined by other musicians.

For information, call the Chesapeake Arts Center at 410-636-6597 or the Ballet Theatre of Maryland office at 410-263-8289.

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