School of ballet offers hit recital

The Baltimore Sun

Over the years I've attended my share of boring dance recitals at lesser venues, but Saturday's three-hour performance by the Ballet Theatre of Maryland's School of Classical and Contemporary Dance was so good that it more than made up for all those unpleasant experiences.

Describing the year-end recital as "the chance to show how much the students have learned," said Dianna Cuatto, the theatre's artistic and school director. "This is the one time all of the students, older and younger, get together in one building and interact."

Founded in 1978, Ballet Theatre of Maryland is the state's oldest professional ballet school. And it soon became clear that we were witnessing a higher level of dance recital.

Titled "The Heroes, Legends and Pioneers of Dance," the program was inspired by Catherine de Medici, who brought Italian-style dance to the French court, creating ballet as we know it today. Other segments were inspired by French painters Edgar Degas and Henri Matisse and choreographers Agnes de Mille, George Balanchine and Martha Graham, Broadway's Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse and innovative dancer Michael Jackson, whose "Beat It" was paid tribute.

Just as the program was inspired by a variety of visual artists and choreographic legends and dance legends, the numbers were imaginatively varied: Classic dances were interspersed with modern, and the youngest dancers slotted between more advanced students, including a surprising number of near-professional caliber.

Adding to the program's artistic excellence was an array of striking costumes designed by Natasha Brown and Debra Clark that beautifully integrated each dance and complimented each dancer.

Dances performed by the youngest students -- 4 years old -- offered irresistible charm in addition to proof that they could execute a program requiring basic knowledge of dance movement with ensemble precision while maintaining balance along with beguiling, bright smiles.

Advanced students demonstrated fine individual technique, graceful movements and seamless ensemble work that combined to give ample evidence of the excellent training they receive. Most noteworthy in the first half of the program was Cuatto's choreographed "Kaleidoscope," inspired by the contemporary rock ballet of William Forsythe.

The dancers seemed totally at home in this idiom, demonstrating athleticism, electric energy and appropriate edginess as an ensemble and in solo work performed by Sarah Brown, Jane Morgan, Moira Price, Chelsea Raithby, Amanda Sewell, Chris Scruggs and Travis Travis The advanced dancers also excelled in such classical ballets as Swan Waltz to Tchaikovsky's music and in La Sylphide and later Les Sylphides to Chopin's music.

For a change of pace and just as demanding athletically and rhythmically was the exciting "C'est Magnifique" choreographed by Sarah Knoll-Gentry and danced by Madeline Clark, Morgan Espeut, Brianna Goodman, Michele Hall and Nora Shipp.

Retaining the French language in the song "My Way," as part of the "Happy Feet -- My Way" dance tribute to Gregory Hines and Savion Glover, was a high-energy tap dance choreographed by Laura Villalobos and executed by the younger students.

Hollywood child star Shirley Temple was the inspiration for "Fit as a Fiddle," another tap number danced by Emily Harper and Ann Marie Nolan to Knoll-Gentry's choreography.

Broadway was well-represented by Michael Bennett's tribute to dancers in the show A Chorus Line with the number "I Hope I Get It" was especially outstanding.

Not only was this a program in which parents and family members could take pride in their dancers on stage, but also the audience motivated by their love of dance could also find entertainment.

For information on registration for classes beginning Sept. 4 at Maryland Hall and the Conte Annex, call 410-263- 8289.

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