Ballet Theatre of Maryland launched its 30th anniversary season - and its most successful opener ever - with a sizable audience Saturday for the opening performance of Cinderella and a sold-out show Sunday at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
The draw was a sparkling choreographic recreation of the fairy tale favorite by BTM artistic director Dianna Cuatto. Clearly relishing the project, Cuatto explained that she had "combined the best parts of favorite versions including Ever After, Disney, Rodgers and Hammerstein and others to create this version of the beloved tale."
Cuatto expressed her fondness for Cinderella to the audience on opening night, saying she'd had "the good fortune of being cast as the Fairy Godmother by the San Francisco Ballet in Bill Christensen's original 1968 version - the American premiere of this ballet."
Cuatto's dedication was apparent in the new vision that starts the ballet grandly in the court, where preparations are under way for the ball that evening. Queen Mother Felicity encourages her son Prince Darius to seek his true love among the kingdom's eligible maidens, all of whom are invited to the ball. The scene shifts to a forest where young Prince Darius has a chance meeting with the Fairy Godmother, who gives him a vision of Cinderella.
In addition to the insights that mark Cuatto's creativity, this ballet is a visual treat throughout, resulting from the shared technical responsibilities and artistic talents of a team of BTM professional dancers doing double duty. Ballerina Jessie Fry designed all the costumes in this production, and in addition she danced superbly as the Fairy Godmother on Saturday. Other dancers displaying artistic talents were Brian Walker, who built the sets and danced several roles, and Meagan Helman, who painted the sets and alternated in the role of Fairy Godmother. Together Helman and Walker contributed their own magic to this production.
A consistent goal of BTM artistic directors is to create new works to showcase the talents of new dancers. Cuatto double-casts most roles so that Cinderella was played by Kathryn Carlson on Saturday and by Margaret Hannah on Sunday. The Prince was played by David McAlister on Saturday and Calder Taylor on Sunday. The Fairy Godmother was Jessie Fry on Saturday and Meagan Helman on Sunday. The Ugly Sisters were danced by apprentices Alyssa Johnson and Sarah Neilson on Saturday and by apprentice Sarah Poinski with company member Scali Riggs on Sunday. Many supporting roles were also double-cast to give exposure to all company dancers.
Several effects were created by having dream-like sequences danced behind sheer curtains, mythical characters emerging from fireplaces and appearing from standing clock bases, and transformations of dancers into horses, mice and fairies.
This Cinderella rates high marks for creating magic and for its welcome humor, most provided by the Ugly Sisters Liasette and Annabelle, who summoned some comically awkward moves to become klutzes who competed with each other, wrestled with Cinderella and challenged the Dance Master charged with teaching them grace and imbuing them with style. At the ball, the two managed to terrorize every dance partner.
In this version, long-suffering Cinderella seems to have a bit more spunk and confidence, appearing almost regal in her rags and later as she awaits her transformation for the ball. The Fairy Godmother takes Cinderella to a place of Starlight Dreams where nymphs and the four seasons bring the makings of Cinderella's gossamer-gilded ball gown trimmed with burgundy rose petals.
The Fairy Godmother, as danced by Jessie Fry, lent elegance to her classic costume and used her wand with such authority that her magic was believable and beautiful.
Now in his second season with BTM, David McAlister lived up to his earlier promise dancing the major Prince role - tender in his pas de deux with Carlson's Cinderella and spectacular in his solo work that was a crowd pleaser.
As Cinderella, Kathryn Carlson danced exquisitely and displayed enough acting skill to gain the audience's sympathy early on, encouraging its growth to root for her forever-after happiness with her Prince in the royal kingdom.
At about three hours with two intermissions totaling a half-hour, this Cinderella offered the audience magic, beauty, dancing and excitement.
And for the holiday season, the BTM has scheduled five Nutcracker performances, beginning Dec. 13 and through Dec. 21. Call the Ballet Theatre of Maryland office, 410-263-8289.