Ballet Theatre of Maryland's artistic director, Dianna Cuatto, has opened the 31st season for the state's premier professional ballet company with a proven winner, "Beauty and the Beast."
Cuatto's choreography, combining romantic elements of Jean Cocteau's 1946 film with hints of Disney's 1991 animated version, revealed new vistas for adults while captivating children as well at the show's performances Oct. 18-20.
Never one to rest on previous seasons' laurels or plaudits, Cuatto polished her choreography from 2009, when the Ballet Theatre last presented this show, to reveal sparkling new facets reflecting her dancers' growing expertise. Lead dancers reprising the title roles create an expert cast. Cuatto reworked entire passages, from the opening scene on, to highlight dancers' strengths and characters' relevance. The results illustrate the powerful language of dance.
Ballet Theatre's extraordinary corps de ballet is filled with fabulous dancers who pull double duty as set builders and designers, scenic artists, lighting designers and wardrobe custodians. Together, they consistently create the best sets and staging to be seen at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
As teachers, technicians, stage directors and carpenters, this multi-talented troupe is composed of members who have grown together over a period of six to 10 years to form enduring camaraderie and bonds.
The classic "Beauty and the Beast" fairy tale proves to be an excellent avenue for this talent. The story tells the familiar tale of a selfish prince transformed into a fearsome beast, who can only be saved by the selfless love of one who sees beyond his exterior to his inner virtues. Only if pure-hearted Belle grows to love the Beast will the spell be broken and the Beast transformed back into a handsome prince.
Told in two acts, Ballet Theatre's "Beauty and the Beast" is a show of lively excitement. Belle and her twin brother, Noelle, live with their shipping merchant father, Marcel. At the other side of the village is handsome, arrogant Jacques, admired by many village girls, although Belle considers him foolish and vain.
As the Beast, Calder Taylor tops his acclaimed 2009 portrayal to summon even greater combative power, and he seems more skilled in communicating the Beast's hesitant reluctance to terrify both father and daughter. His power and ferocity in combat with animal and human enemies is impressive, and he defines swashbuckling moves in fearless leaps from high ledges.
Arguably the company's most skilled actor-dancer, Taylor adds humor to the Beast's preening in his best evening vest as he prepares for a first date with Belle and humorously takes timid dance steps with Terra and Fauna. Taylor sensitively conveys the Beast's growing protectiveness and tenderness toward Belle, with touching vulnerability. As always, Taylor's partnering is stunning, executing phenomenal lifts naturally and smoothly with incredible ease.
Meagan Helman also brings new artistry to her dance portrayal of Belle, immediately standing out in grace and beauty. Helman's Belle expresses a teasing playfulness with Noelle and a feisty disdain for Jacques. Helman beautifully captures Belle's growing trust in, tenderness and affection for the Beast — who obviously becomes her prince long before his physical transformation.
Valerie Walker brightens spirits while lighting her every scene in the portrayal of Auriele, the Fairy of Good Light. Dramatically commanding the stage as Luna, Enchantress of the Night, Alyssa Johnson-Taylor defines adds a natural seductive grace to create her own captivating spell.
Among the many noteworthy dance performances, Alden Taylor is excellent as Marcel, and Alexander Collen is outstanding as Noelle.
Brian Walker offers a vigorous Jacques skilled in combat, and he comically projected the enormous conceit and arrogance of the village hunk.
The contributions of children to the joyous vitality of the company cannot be overstated. Disciplined enough to blend with the professional dancers, these young dancers brighten audience spirits as they convey a joy of dance that should continue to enrich their young lives.
This season opener signals exciting times ahead for Ballet Theatre of Maryland at its home theater in Maryland Hall in Annapolis. The season includes such favorites as "The Nutcracker", scheduled for Dec. 14-15 and Dec. 21-22; "Swan Lake" on Feb. 21-23; and a fascinating mix new dance works in "Director's Choice," April 11-13.
For information about the troupe's shows at Maryland Hall, and others at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, call 410-224-5644 or go to balletmaryland.org.