Ballet Theatre explores new 'Frontier' and taps traditional 'Coppelia'

March 07, 2013|By Mary Johnson, For The Baltimore Sun

Ballet Theatre of Maryland's production of "Frontier: The War of 1812 on the Chesapeake" comes to the Chesapeake Arts Center at 3 p.m. March 17 as part of the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum. The show continues the association's season bringing historic events alive in performance.

This acclaimed ballet, capturing the spirit of the young United States, was inspired by the letters and memoirs of Dolley Madison and other women of the period.

It depicts major events of the conflict, from the declaration of war and the burning of Washington, D.C., to the battle of Fort McHenry and the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Perhaps the most dramatic scene is the depiction of Fort McHenry, with the bombardment simulated as Francis Scott Key's famed poem is read and the unfurled banner of 15 stars and 15 stripes is projected. The scene is sure to quicken the pulses of Baltimore-area natives.

The production should also be of particular interest to Linthicum residents, since it was John Charles Linthicum, who served as a congressman from 1911 until his death in 1932, who introduced a bill in 1918 to make "The Star-Spangled Banner" the national anthem of the United States. He persisted in promoting the idea until it was accepted in 1931.

The show will be at the Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. Subscribers to the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum may invite guests to the concert for $18 each and bring students for free. This is a performance relevant to its location and deserving of a capacity audience. For information, call Verena Linthicum at 410-859-3117.

Nonsubscribers can order tickets online at or by calling the Chesapeake Arts Center at 410-636-6597.

Before "1812" arrives, it's worth noting Ballet Theatre of Maryland's first Maryland Hall staging of 2013 — the comedic ballet "Coppelia," which ran in February.

In her 10th season with Ballet Theatre, artistic director Dianna Cuatto again showed her choreographic skill in reinterpreting classic ballet.

Her ability opens frontiers for the troupe, and on display were the artistic director's signature two- and three-stage lifts; essential to her exquisite partnering. The noteworthy talents of BTM's Dance School's beginning and advanced students were also proudly showcased.

First staged in 1870, "Coppelia" is danced to the music of Leo Delibes, and tells the story of village couple Swanhilda and Franz and their adventures with eccentric Dr. Coppelius, whose lifelike mechanical doll, Coppelia, sits reading on the balcony, attracting Franz's attention.

Because Franz and Swanhilda are engaged to wed, Swanhilda becomes jealous and persuades her friends to sneak into Coppelius' house with her. Here they discover the girl on the balcony is actually a doll.

In her performance as Swanhilda, ballet mistress Meagan Helman used every dance challenge to display her mastery of styles, from classical and romantic to folk and Spanish. She dances the lead role with impressive stamina as the high-spirited peasant who soon shows her displeasure at her fiance's interest in the mysterious beauty on the balcony. Helman's versatility encompassed every style required. She also summoned a magical transformation from a doll with mechanical movements to a live being who mischievously creates chaos among Coppelius' many life-size dolls.

Helman brilliantly partnered with Brian Walker as Franz, whose ordinary limitations include a weakness for feminine beauty. Walker's Franz is a perfect match for Helman's Swanhilda, conveying boundless joy and trust, the drama of escaping danger and the pure enchantment of young love. Walker's skills included several stunning multistage lifts, deftly executed.

Also noteworthy was Calder Taylor's nuanced portrayal of Dr. Coppelius, capturing both the absurdity and vulnerability of the mysterious doll-maker; and Nicole Kelsch and Django Allegretti deserve praise for brightening Act 2 with their superb "Dance of the Hours."

In sum, the entire ensemble of principal dancers delivered a sparkling performance of this demanding ballet, which focuses on ordinary villagers without a single prince or princess in sight. Ballet Theatre students of all levels delivered polished performances to reflect most favorably on their instruction.

Next on the schedule at Maryland Hall, 801 Chase St, Annapolis, will be "Director's Choice," featuring Antony Tudor's "Continuo," with performances on April 12, 13 and 14. For information, call 410-224-5644.

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