Ballet Theatre of Maryland is starting its 2014 season in history-making fashion, offering its first full-length production of "Swan Lake" in three performances over the Feb. 21-23 weekend at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
Artistic director Dianna Cuatto is relishing the challenge after twice offering a shortened version. She calls "Swan Lake" "perhaps Tchaikovsky's finest ballet score" and "the last great romantic ballet from the golden era."
The masterwork is considered more symphonic than other ballets of the era and a romantic work overflowing with beautiful melodies.
"This is one of the most challenging full-length ballets for a small company to tackle because it is long, demanding and almost everybody has some knowledge to have expectations for it," Cuatto said. "This adds to the pressure for both the choreographer and principal dancers, Nicole Kelsch [who portrays Odette/Odile] and Django Allegretti, her prince."
Since 1915, it has been usual for the same ballerina to dance both roles of Odette and Odile, as Ballet Theatre will do here.
The show tells us that Swan Lake was created by the tears of the parents of daughters who were transformed into swans. Prince Siegfried finds love in Odette, a beautiful maiden who has been cursed by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart into taking on the form of a swan during the day. Will Siegfried's love be enough to free Odette and return her to human form permanently?
Cuatto's choreography offers a few surprises, including having Von Rothbart transform his daughter Odile into an Odette look-alike onstage. Generally depicted as an owl, Von Rothbart in Ballet Theatre's version becomes a raven, as does Odile in their dark form.
Cuatto said she considers this more appropriate to an area where the Baltimore Ravens football team and Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" are well known. In mythology, ravens are symbolic of the darker side of humanity.
"Swan Lake" will premiere at Maryland Hall, with a later performance in Baltimore at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric on March 29.
"Being a part of this collaborative effort is an important step in our ongoing quest to provide Maryland with a professional ballet company of national stature," Cuatto said. "Marylanders who have not yet seen us perform can do so at this full-length production of this ballet in Baltimore.
"BTM is determined to make Baltimore and Maryland proud of its own professional ballet company," she said.
The Feb. 21-23 weekend series at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is the first major performance there since the announcement of an $18 million renovation of the performing arts wing. The first phase will take place between June 1 and Sept. 15, and will include the renovation of the theater's orchestra-level seating and the addition of several elements to the stage that will enhance the experience for patrons and performers.
At a reception last fall opening the Ballet Theatre's 2013-2014 season, Linnell Bowen, president of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, escorted us to her office where a mock-up of the proposed renovation was displayed. It revealed an elegant venue that should be welcomed by performing arts audiences.
"In celebration of our 35th anniversary, Maryland Hall is seeking to modernize our 1932 facility," Bowen said.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland seems well prepared to use this space to create stellar ballet settings during the 2014-2015 season and beyond.
" 'Swan Lake' shows the high-caliber performance by its resident companies," Bowen said. "Our renovations will only make all our performances better."
Performances of "Swan Lake" are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. For tickets call 410-280-5640 or go to mdhallarts.org. The March 29 performance at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, sponsored by the Helena Foundation, will begin at 7 p.m. The Lyric is located at 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. in Baltimore. Call 410-685-5086 or go to lyricoperahouse.com.