Time traveling via ballet

The Baltimore Sun

The Ballet Theatre of Maryland School of Classical and Contemporary Dance exceeded my expectations with its annual recital May 30 and 31. Instead of an interminable event where lengthy pauses separated dance segments indistinguishable from one another, we were treated to a fast-paced, entertaining program.

My one criticism: Dance Through Time began at 6 p.m. and ended after 10 p.m., to clock in at 3 1/2 hours, excluding intermission. The school might defend the program length as unavoidable.

BTM, based at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, is the only school in the state with a classical and contemporary ballet training program for all levels, from beginning through pre-professional to apprentice to professional students of dance. The recital is the one occasion all year when all 200 students from age 4 up join in one building and interact.

In overall professional quality, theme continuity and attention to detail, the program had the unmistakable stamp of director Dianna Cuatto. She coordinated a Dance Through Time program that put together a cohesive historical account of dance featuring excerpts from the Romantic and Classical ballet in the first half to a study of contemporary and modern dance in the second.

A number of skilled dancer-choreographers, including Christi Bleakly, Lauren Angel, Ericka Richcrick, Nicole Seitz, Carey Ballinger and Morgan Grubola, created imaginative choreography suited to each group's abilities. Adding to the overall excellence was an array of striking costumes designed by BTM principal dancer and teacher Jessica Fry.

Among the Classical ballets, Christi Bleakly choreographed an outstanding segment from Giselle for beginning ballet students. Little Red Riding Hood nicely showcased the talents of the youngest dancers.

The intermediate-to-advanced students had an opportunity to show how much they had mastered in Sleeping Beauty segments. Jane Morgan, scholarship recipient to the Houston Ballet Summer Program, danced the role of Aurora in two exquisite solo segments and with ballet master Bryan Skates in a pas de deux that included a few gravity-defying fish dives.

After intermission, the program featured salutes to Broadway and the movies. Not only did the second half display the students' versatility, high energy and superb athleticism, but it also showcased their excellence in ensemble dancing.

From Hairspray, the infectious rhythms of "You Can't Stop the Beat" were perfectly danced by a beginning jazz trio of Olivia Bushman, Annabel Cooksey and Lia Mussante. The advanced jazz group of six dancers gave their all to "Swing N' Jive." In "Singing in the Rain," young tap dancers gave an affectionate nod to Gene Kelly.

The program ended with the superbly creative choreography of apprentice Nicole Seitz, who was recently promoted to full company status. Her choreography featured the intermediate and advanced students dancing to Scott Joplin's music in "Ragtime Variations" often surprisingly en pointe for a stunningly fresh approach.

The appreciative audience made up largely of parents and family members had reason to take pride in this performance. Teachers as well could be proud of their accomplishments in creating such a highly professional show filled with polished performances.

Classes resume Sept. 8. For information on registration, call 410-263-8289.

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