Dianna Cuatto entered her 15th anniversary as artistic director of Ballet Theatre of Maryland with a touching rendition of the classic “Romeo and Juliet.”
Choreographed beautifully, the show performed last weekend to open the troupe’s 39th season was highlighted by Cuatto’s expert fusing of vibrant dance with romantic drama, with no better vehicle than the smoldering conflict between rival Capulet and Montague families.
The show whets our appetites for Ballet Theatre’s next production: “The Nutcracker,” scheduled for performances in November and December.
Before last weekend’s showing of “Romeo and Juliet,” Cuatto’s anniversary was celebrated in a gathering of about 100 fans. She shared future plans that include expanding the troupe’s performing areas beyond the current shows in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bowie and Garrett County.
Another goal is to make ballet accessible to a wider diversity of populations, with the company’s educational programs being expanded with a new Anne Arundel County program that will provide dance training emphasizing cultural impact. Several other programs are being launched to serve students in other Maryland communities.
Those who missed “Romeo and Juliet” last week should mark their calendars — the troupe will perform it again, though not until 2018 — a show is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 18 at the Performing Arts Center at the Lyric in Baltimore.
It is worth the wait. Cuatto’s admiration of Sergei Prokofiev’s score, which she calls “a poetically breathtaking composition for dance,” was expressed by her choreographing the young lovers’ radiant pas des deux and elsewhere in spine-tingling fierce combat scenes.
Several elements are worthy of note, particularly Cuatto’s prologue introducing Mab, the Gypsy of Fate. Mab brings a modern note to Shakespeare’s timeless story through using tarot cards. As Mab, principal dancer Lynne Bellinger added exotic drama and mysticism in her performance with tarot cards. Sarah Gilliam shared the role of Lovers and Tarot Card with demi-soloist Madelyn Nelson, while demi-soloist Corinne Elkins danced the Death Card.
Among notable characters introduced are hotheaded, vengeful Tybalt, vigorously portrayed by versatile Mark McCormack, now in his third season with BTM — and who also displayed strong acting skills as gentle, supportive Friar Lawrence who secretly marries the couple.
Mercutio was defined anew by Hong Kong native Victor Smith, who joined Ballet Theatre this season and impressed with his vigorous, multi-faceted characterization. Also marking his first season with the troupe, Baltimorean Sean Sessions impressed as Juliet’s nobleman suitor, Paris. Another strong new soloist is Stephaen Hood of Baltimore, who brought formidable presence to his Lord Capulet performance, displaying strong swordsmanship skills in his dual with Lord Montague, deftly portrayed by Al Kessler. Another striking addition was Tony Sewer, who created a strong Benvolio, complete with disarming warmth.
Diego Sosa excelled as a romantic young Romeo, eager to experience life fully and fearlessly. Persuaded by Mercutio and Benvolio to attend the Capulet ball, he backs into Juliet to meet his destiny.
As Juliette, Nicole Kelsch displayed a luminosity and weightlessness that enabled her to seem ethereal floating in air. Now 11th season with Ballet Theatre, Kelsch radiantly conveyed juliet’s instant love for the equally smitten Romeo, and ended Act 1 with a gorgeous pas de deux.
Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26 at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, 15200 Annapolis Road, Bowie; then 7 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 9 and 16 and 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sundays Dec. 10 and 17, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. There will also be two “Nutcracker” performances at the Modell Lyric in Baltimore on Saturday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.