Last weekend, Ballet Theatre of Maryland presented a magical stage version of "Alice in Wonderland" to open its 32nd season at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. The ballet won the Audience Choice Award as the piece to be choreographed by BTM artistic director Dianna Cuatto, now in her eighth season at the helm.
In introducing the performance, Cuatto said she set the ballet to the music of Alexander Glazunov, whose "Raymonda" and "The Seasons" ballet music worked well for the show. Cuatto said she started work on "Alice" in May, studying nine versions, and finished her version only the week before the show.
Cuatto had to deal with the limitations of Maryland Hall, where "it is impossible to fly anything," in staging a production based in a fantasy world. She ended up using some innovative methods for making fairy-tale characters suddenly appear on stage and shrink and grow.
Among the most outstanding moments were those when Alice had to shrink, accomplished visually by having everything around her seem to expand. Later, when she must get bigger, a hidden dancer under her costume's skirt made her look as though she had suddenly grown twice as tall.
Adding more visual magic was Cuatto's concept of costume and set design, executed by BTM's dancers.
Lewis Carroll's beloved tale begins on Alice's 15th birthday, when her parents decide to present her with some possible suitors at her party.
Alice leaves the party to follow the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.
The newly choreographed show proved to be a visual feast filled with fabulous dancing, perfect costumes, romance and whimsy. Cuatto designed the dances to showcase her talented performers, which include more strong male dancers than ever before.
Now in her eighth season with BTM, Kathryn Carlson fit perfectly as Alice, combining superb technique with unlimited energy.
Proving an admirably suitable dance partner was Edward Tracz as the White Knight, who combined tenderness and strength in their pas de deux, which also featured some spectacular lifts. He also delivered an exciting duel with Joshua Burnham's Red Knave.
Burnham was equally spectacular in his dances, commanding every scene with his great jumps and turns and formidable energy.
The performance also marked the Maryland Hall debut of Django Allegretti as a lively, robust White Rabbit.
Meagan Helman, who also served as set designer, brought her distinctive flair to her role as the Red Queen. Calder Taylor's Mad Hatter also deserves kudos, along with Brian Walker's White King and wife Valerie Walker's White Queen. And Erica Wong made a spectacular debut as the beguiling Cheshire Cat.
High among crowd-pleasing comic favorites were Tweedle Dum (Alexandra Keen) and Tweedle Dee (Jillian Cyr) and a family of ducks featuring Mama Duck (Rose Whitney) and her ducklings (Maggie Musante, Allie Dotson and Alexis Brownlee on Saturday evening, and Gabrielle Gilbert, Addison Porter and Angela Olea on Sunday afternoon) in "The Caucus Race" scene.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland presents "The Nutcracker" at Maryland Hall at 7 p.m. Dec. 11, 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and 19, and 7 p.m. Dec. 18. There will be "Sugar Plum" parties at noon and 3:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and 19. Information: 410-224-5644. Tickets: 410-280-5640 or mdhallarts.org.