Ballet Theatre of Maryland performs Director’s Choice

Dianna Cuatto helms two repertoire performances

April 16, 2010|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Ballet Theatre of Maryland director Dianna Cuatto offered her Director's Choice program in two repertoire performances last weekend at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. The program of classical and contemporary ballet showcased the continuing progress of Maryland's premier professional dance company.

Works included two world premieres choreographed by Cuatto: an impressionistic "Dance of the Spirits" set to Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor, and an abstract contemporary "Wheels of Life" that marked the first collaboration of Cuatto and contemporary composer Marcus Galiber.

Another premier, "Unsquare," was an upbeat piece danced to classical jazz choreographed by Meagan Helman, now in her sixth season of dancing with BTM.

Completing the program was "The Forgotten Path," a spiritual work with original music by Rob Levitt.

In her pre-performance remarks, Cuatto confessed her enduring love of Grieg, which began early in her career.

She used his Piano Concerto — his most romantic and popular work — to express mystical aspects of the aurora borealis, which is visiable in Greig's native Norway. The aurora borealis was portrayed in a changing projected backdrop and in neo-romantic ballet movements expressing "spirits who live and dance in the sky."

Initially, the sound of Greig's Concerto and projected backdrop's luminosity evoked a breathtaking mood that some of the dancers in the first movement did not sustain.

This tentative beginning was nearly forgotten as the ensemble moved on to the second movement, where they were joined by principals Brian Walker, Kathryn Carlson and Kelly Braga. Together they captured such hallmarks of Cuatto's choreography as the depiction of natural phenomena, sensitive portrayal of life cycles, dance movements fitting the music and shifting kaleidoscopic dance patterns.

The third movement featuring Nicole Seitz and Calder Taylor along with the ensemble tied the philosophical and mystical elements together for a lovely impressionistic conclusion.

Next on the program was Cuatto's "The Forgotten Path" danced to the music of Levitt, providing a sharp contrast to the first number. This piece premiered at BTM in 2007 and later won Cuatto a 2009 Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council. It proved to be a spiritual, life-affirming work.

In both performances, Helman danced the main role of The Traveler, conveying profound spirituality along with the evolving patterns that reflect life's journey. The piece contained some spectacular lifts by male dancers, including Taylor, Matthew Stern, Alden Taylor and Walker.

Helman's "Unsquare" danced to classical jazz was essentially neoclassical choreography that she employed in a distinctively upbeat and lively way, utilizing elements of swing dancing. Passing and tossing a large brimmed hat from dancer to dancer added a whimsical element, with each person taking the lead after the toss of the hat. Braga, Carlson, Margaret Hannah, Alexandra Keen, Valerie Nezich, Sarah Obuzor, Scali Riggs, Seitz, Alden Taylor and Walker brought their distinct professionalism and joy of dance to this perfectly synchronized piece.

Cuatto might have saved the best for last in the premiere of her abstract ballet "Wheels of Life." She explored the elements of sacred sound and the seven swirling intersections of the vital life forces called "chakras," or "spinning wheels of energy."

The ballet was visually stunning, with dancers wearing simple body-hugging black costumes trimmed with appropriate chakra symbolism. Cuatto employed diagonal lines of dancers, which other dancers slashed through with quick precision to create a sense of freedom without disintegrating into a hint of mechanical movement.

Engrossing from the start, each of the seven chakras were illustrated through dance. Soloists brought the first segments to life, with particular brilliance displayed by Braga, Riggs, Helman and Seitz.

"Wheels of Life" culminated in the last two chakras — "The Pathways of Light" featuring the ensemble and "The Eternal Dance of Cosmic Consciousness" — that showcased the entire cast in a magnificent conclusion that seemed to unravel the mysteries of life in its essential elements through sound and dance movement.

Coming events
Ballet Theatre of Maryland's final event of the season is the Dancers' Gala, at 6 p.m. today at Annapolis Marriott Waterfront. Information: 410-263-8289. For 2010-2011 season information: balletmaryland.org.
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