By Mary Johnson, For The Baltimore Sun
5:01 PM EDT, October 25, 2012
Ballet Theatre of Maryland opened its 35th season, and 10th with artistic director Dianna Cuatto at the helm, with the fireworks of a world-premiere ballet.
Known for enchanting audiences with classic tales at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Cuatto summoned new choreographic wizardry for her personal favorite, "The Dancing Princesses," a lesser-known Grimm fairy tale. Striving to deliver "a dramatic retelling in dance where I could create an amazing new secret world of magic," Cuatto achieved her goal and more.
Celebrating its 35th anniversary, Ballet Theatre of Maryland continues to fulfill its mission as the state's only professional ballet company, expanding its expert dance instruction while its growing number of top professionals take live performances to new heights.
Presented last weekend, the all-new "Dancing Princesses" features vivid characters who create a fairy tale for a 21st-century audience. The audience included several children dressed as fairy-tale characters, adding their own charming early Halloween party element. Family fun continued for all ages throughout the performance.
For each of the nine scenes in this two-act ballet, Cuatto chose ideal musical accompaniment by such 19th-century composers as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Saint-Saens and Delibes. The music added charm, atmosphere and magic to all dance segments.
Cuatto's version of the fairy tale was true enough to the original to make it recognizable to fans while adding several characters and contemporary insights drawn from fantasy and science fiction.
Wise and courageous King Andreus is the widower of former fairy princess Loriel, whose Kingdom of Fairies was united with his Kingdom of Light. Together, they had five daughters, each with special gifts: Rowena, the eldest and most studious; artistic Mariel; optimistic Rosalie; and mischievous, fun-loving Isabel. Loriel died giving birth to Elayna, the youngest and most loving daughter.
Having died as a mortal, Loriel went between two worlds where she existed as a Glairy — part ghost, part fairy — until her mortal tasks were completed. Loriel watched over her family for 15 years as King Andreus and his aide Phillip raised the princesses. When Andreus returned after having won the Goblin Wars, a celebration was held, where Elayna fell in love with king's soldier and royal cobbler Darien.
At the palace, Andreus and Elayna sense Loriel's watchful presence before she is replaced by the evil goblin queen Griseline. Andreus casts out Griseline, who soon returns to become the princesses' tutor. She casts a spell on the princesses, causing them to follow her into the Underworld, where they dance with goblins until dawn, wearing out shoes each night. If they dance for three nights, they will turn into goblins.
Watchful Loriel appears to Darien, warning him of Griseline's plans to destroy the princesses and the kingdom, and Loriel and Darien save the dancing princesses, break the spell and provide a happy ending.
Cuatto's concept was brought to life by BTM's troupe, including the youngest goblins, fairies, elves and others.
Versatile principal dancer Calder Taylor, who excels in bringing dramatic expression to dance, created a charismatic King Andreus. Displaying his excellent swordsmanship, Taylor also portrayed a gentle, protective father, most touchingly in a pas de deux with favorite daughter Elayna.
Ballet Mistress Meagan Helman poignantly projected Loriel's concern for her princess daughters and abiding love for her husband while simultaneously conveying the mystical qualities of a fairy queen, all defined in Helman's exquisite dancing.
Dancing princesses Rowena (Valerie Walker), Mariel (Kaitlin Frankenfield) and Isabel (Jillian Cyr) each with consummate grace became a synchronized dance ensemble, in turns fun-loving and adventurous, anxiously protective of their siblings, and fearless in battling goblins.
Principal dancer Nicole Kelsch revealed Elayna's trusting affection for her father in their tender pas de deux, and her perception that Loriel continued to watch over her was sensitively communicated by spare gestures. Perhaps most strongly, Kelsch expressed Elayna's youthful urgency to discover love in solo dances conveying fearless exuberance and in her sublime pas de deux with Django Allegretti's Darien.
Allegretti was magnificent in executing remarkable leaps, stunning elevations and lightning-fast spins to dazzle in solo turns and in vigorous combat with goblins of the Underworld. He was equally skilled in partnering with Kelsch in their amazing pas de deux, complete with breath-taking two- and three-stage lifts.
Contributing highlights were Alyssa Johnson-Taylor, who was formidable as fearsome Griseline; Alden Taylor, who showed a compelling presence as Phillip; and superb soldiers Florent Bouyat, Alexander Collen and Anton Iakovlev.
Cuatto reached a magical summit with "The Dancing Princesses" to usher in what promises to be a triumphant season at Maryland Hall, featuring six performances of "The Nutcracker" from Dec. 8-16; "Coppelia" on Feb. 22-24 and "Director's Choice: All American" on April 12-14.
For ticket information: balletmaryland.org.
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