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Ballet Theatre's magical 'Cinderella' en pointe for an encore at The Lyric

Midway through its 2014-15 season at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Ballet Theatre of Maryland is continuing its Vote Your Choice season with performances picked by audience members.

Now in her 12th year as the troupe's artistic director, Dianna Cuatto describes designing a schedule that reflects audience wishes as a delight. She's especially pleased to start 2015 with a newly choreographed version of "Cinderella," a play she calls "the most universal of all fairy tales."

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This production surpasses Cuatto's 2008 "Cinderella" offering, fully exploiting all challenges and rewards of composer Sergei Prokofiev's score, which Cuatto's aptly describes as "magical and unique."

"Cinderella" enjoyed a successful run this month at Maryland Hall, but it's not too late to enjoy this superb production — an encore will be held March 28 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric in Baltimore.

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Prokofiev once expressed his intent that his music "express, above all, the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince," weaving their story through a variety of dances that allow the performers to display their art.

Skilled at revealing her dancers' strengths, Cuatto showcases the superb athleticism and strength of this season's larger Ballet Theatre company to convey Prokofiev's intent.

At the outset of Cuatto's "Cinderella," a newly created opening palace scene introduces the reluctant Prince as he prepares for a ball where he must choose a bride from his kingdom's eligible maidens, including four princesses — each with an annoying quirk.

In this production, the familiar Fairy Godmother is visible to both the Prince and Cinderella, who in individual acts of kindness prove to be compatibly compassionate and well-suited for each other.

Cuatto includes in this production the ghost of Cinderella's father, who visits her as she works at her unending kitchen-scrubbing tasks demanded by her stepmother. Cinderella is shown love by the ghost of her caring father, gently danced in the Maryland Hall productions by Calder Taylor on opening night and by his brother Alden Taylor in a subsequent performance.

Humor is provided by Cinderella's mean stepsisters — Lisette, danced by Alyssa Johnson-Taylor, and Annabelle, danced by Jillian Cyr — together creating hilariously awkward moves defining comic klutzes. The sisters rise to comic heights as they are served by merchants and teachers, whose exhaustive efforts prepare them for the ball.

Among this entourage is a dance master — again alternatively performed by Calder and Alden Taylor. For added fun, Cuatto presents a court jester, well danced by apprentice Roman Mykyta. All male dancers conveyed total exhaustion in their endeavors to teach the sisters grace and suitable ballroom behavior.

Reinforcing the fantasy element are a group of fairies who assist Fairy Godmother in the transformation of Cinderella, and clock trolls announcing Cinderella's midnight ball departure time.

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At all three recent performances at Maryland Hall, Nicole Kelsch exquisitely danced the title role, investing her Cinderella with appealing innocence and indomitable spirit. Her demeanor seemingly shields her from the barbs of her stepmother and stepsisters, and a joyous radiance is revealed as she discovers the Prince's love.

Alexander Collen brings charisma to the Prince role, executing Cuatto's choreography with superb technique while adding dynamic vigor to solo and group dances. Collen also presents sensitivity in his partnering skills, lending a romantic aura to each exquisite pas de deux.

The Fairy Godmother and Beggar woman were beautifully danced by versatile actress-dancer Lauren Derrig, who joined Ballet Theatre of Maryland just this season.

Male dancers of note in this production include principal dancer Peter Elverson, who joined the company last season; William Smith, in his first Ballet Theatre season; and demi-soloist Aaron Bauer, now in his second season with the troupe. Together they add excitement to spirited dances.

Coming off a 14-year retirement from the stage, Cuatto gets in the act, dancing the Wicked Stepmother role to provide a ballet master class experience for audience members. Cuatto is a superb actress-dancer in full command of the stage, and her every movement is artfully precise.

Cuatto invests Baroness Evilene with an imperious will, from which springs anger toward Cinderella and ambition for her daughters. These qualities are softened by delicious humor, expressed in adroit wrist flicks of her large white fan or by a perceptive nod to strategic servants.

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A joy to observe, Cuatto might consider choreographing her own single-stage performance each season as a treat for the audience.

For those who missed the "Cinderella" shows at Maryland Hall, the 7 p.m. March 28 encore at the Lyric is a date to be circled on the calendar. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com or by calling 410-547-SEAT, or may be purchased at the Modell Lyric Box Office, 110 W. Mount Royal Ave., Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The March 28 show will include a VIP reception at 6 p.m., and it is advisable to reserve seats early — last year's Ballet Theatre of Maryland encore of "Swan Lake" at the Lyric attracted a capacity audience.


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