`Celtic Christmas' a triumph

Ballet is first work commissioned by Performing Arts Association of Linthicum


December 07, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

When the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum offered the world premiere of a new ballet, Celtic Christmas Suites, it became the first work ever commissioned by the arts association in its 26-year history.

Created by renowned choreographer Dianna Cuatto, artistic director of Ballet Theatre of Maryland, Celtic Christmas Suites also proved to be one of the most popular events ever offered by the arts association. On Saturday, the ballet was one of the most well-attended events at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, where an audience filled almost all of the 900 seats.

This ballet might be considered a local triumph since the ballet company, the arts association and the Chesapeake Arts Center are all based in Anne Arundel County.

For the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, the program drew an audience that far surpassed those usually gathered at their venue at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.

When the Performing Arts Association board set the 2007-2008 season, the intent was to include a new ballet with a Christmas theme that would not be another version of The Nutcracker.

With only this suggestion, choreographer Cuatto created Celtic Christmas Suites. This ballet became a journey through dance from the autumnal equinox to Samhain (the Gaelic celebration of the harvest's end) to the winter solstice.

Joining Cuatto in the project was hammered-dulcimer player Maggie Sansone, who created original music for the ballet, with supplemental music by David Arkenstone. Sansone was joined by Karen Ashbrook on the Irish flute and pennywhistle, Sue Richards on Celtic harp, Andrea Hoag on the fiddle and James Gummer, percussionist.

Contributing to the excellence were costumes designed by Cuatto with Natasha Brown. The multitalented choreographer also served as narrator, introducing the program from the control booth.

"Life moves in spirals of motion from snail shell to sunflower, from the invisible coils of DNA molecules to the boundless whirling galaxies, life unfolds as a spiral," she explained.

The concept might be said to have inspired a dance of life consisting of a feminine circle and the masculine line. Cuatto reminded us that "in Celtic countries, people have danced in spirals since the beginning of time. Their dance reflects their participation in the ebb and flow of the circling year."

There were a number of outstanding segments starting with the "Celtic Fair" where Jessica Fry, Kathryn Carlson, Bryan Skates and James Skates (husband and wife) created an energetic, seemingly authentic ancient culture. In the Samhain segment, Fry was flawless as the Dark Goddess, showing energy and strength that matched her male partners/rivals.

Ballet Theatre ballet-master Bryan Skates displayed the dance artistry we have come to expect of him, riveting in his every scene, offering strong, sensitive partnering skills with Carlson, Jamie Skates, Christi Bleakly and Fry. Bryan Skates also set a vigorous standard with male dancers Calder Taylor and Brian Walker in the "Circle Dance."

Alexis Decker as Brigit the Vision and Taylor as the Angel Gabriel were exquisitely reverential as they danced to "What Child Is This?" to embark on the journey following the new sun in the east and later when they arrived to pay homage at the Nativity.

Together, the ensemble of dancers created a compelling version of the familiar Irish step dance that was filled with energy and excitement. It contained such hallmarks of Cuatto's choreography as moves of breathtaking speed where dancers cross lines in such close proximity that collisions seem imminent but are always magically avoided.

The dancers, choreographer and musicians richly deserved the enthusiastic standing ovation they received at the end of the performance.

Other programs

Seats remain for Ballet Theatre of Maryland performances of The Nutcracker at Maryland Hall on Saturday and Sunday and Dec. 16. 410-280-5640 or www.mdhall arts.org.

A free holiday concert will be offered by the Performing Arts Association at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, featuring the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors. A donation of nonperishable food for Harvest for the Hungry is suggested.

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