'Director's Choice' honors art of dance, and two memorable dancers

Ballet Theatre of Maryland concluded its 36th season, and artistic director Dianna Cuatto's 11th, with its "Director's Choice" show last weekend, a performance that took the audience on an excursion to the edge of classic and contemporary dance.

The program also showcased the versatility and strengths of Ballet Theatre's fine company of dancers and paid an apt tribute to favorites Valerie and Brian Walker — who gave their final performance on the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts stage before retiring from dancing.


The show capped a season that departed from classical ballets such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Nutcracker," but included for the first time ever a Ballet Theatre performance at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric in Baltimore of the company's acclaimed production of "Swan Lake."

The program featured five ballet works — four of them choreographed by Cuatto — including an excerpt from the newly choreographed "Swan Lake," and an emotionally rich lyrical work titled "Collage." Cuatto's hand was also seen in an excerpt from "Frontier: The War of 1812," which was first staged a few seasons ago, and a return of the contemporary "Primal Dreams."


Cuatto's work was dominant in the lineup, but the performance also featured a stellar new work, "Saltamontes," choreographed by Meagan Helman. This piece explored the transformative power of American classical dance. Three couples executed the classic pas de deux, moving in unison with simple grace. As tempos quickened, this classical dance took on a joyous freshness.

"Frontier: The War of 1812" depicts the death of British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross (Calder Taylor) in the Battle of North Point as his wife, Elizabeth (Valerie Walker), comforts him in a dreamlike scene on the battlefield. This ballet truly honored Walker, who expressed Elizabeth's compassionate love for her husband with poignant sensitivity.

A radical contrast was provided by "Collage," expressing a series of changing emotions resulting from complex relationships danced in five sections — "Duck and Run" with the full cast; "Loser" with Nicole Kelsch, Django Allegretti, Calder Taylor and Brian Walker; "Catch Me When I Fall," featuring five soloists; "Here Without You" with Meagan Helman and Alexander Collen; and "Better Life" with the full Ballet Theatre cast. The scene featuring Helman and Collen was perhaps most intense, creating a compelling drama.

After the beautiful "Swan Lake" excerpt, the program concluded with a near-perfect performance of Cuatto's award-winning "Primal Dreams," chosen to honor Brian Walker, who danced the protagonist role. The work was a perfect choice to close the program and a perfect choice for Walker; his performance reflected a brilliant dancer going out at top form.

At the start of the program, Cuatto announced that the results of "audience choice" votes were in to help determine the lineup for next season: "Cinderella" was the first choice and "Midsummer Night's Dream" the second. With that settled, we can now announce the 2014-2015 season for the Ballet Theatre of Maryland at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts:

•Oct. 24-26 — "Midsummer Night's Dream"

•Dec. 13-14 and 19-20 — "The Nutcracker"

•Feb. 20-22, 2015 — "Cinderella"


•April 11-13, 2015 — "Director's Choice"

Additional performances by the Ballet Theatre of Maryland are scheduled at other Maryland venues:

•Dec. 7 and 8 — "The Nutcracker" at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts

•March 14, 2015 — "An American Southwest Carmen" at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts

•March 7, 2015 — "Cinderella" at Ocean City

"Cinderella" is also the probable choice for the troupe's return engagement at the Lyric on March 28, 2015. There will be a performance at Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park as well (that date and title are yet to be announced).


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