Rich talent pool takes center stage in Ballet Theater's 'Swan Lake'

Two weeks ago, we could only preview the coming attraction of the Ballet Theater of Maryland's full-length production of "Swan Lake."

Now, after seeing its debut performance last weekend, it's safe to say artistic director Dianna Cuatto has made good on her goal to redefine innovative choreography and dance artistry at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

Viewing Cuatto's study of the enchanting mythical characters battling evil and discovering the power of love, it's easy to see why this ballet ranks high on every balletomane's list.

Uppermost in explaining the enduring appeal of "Swan Lake" is Tchaikovsky's magnificent composition. In this production, the masterwork lends enchantment from the first notes of the overture, and the romantic score gains new beauty through the dancers' interpretation.

Cuatto offers a magic scene as set designer, paired well with Stacie Johnson-Leske's lighting design. A reflective floor created a shimmering lake beneath a moonlit sky for dancers.

Tension created through Cuatto's choreography is exquisitely interpreted by principals Nicole Kelsch as Odette/Odile and Django Allegretti as Prince Siegfried, as well as with all dancers cast in this challenging and compelling production.

Always notable in Ballet Theatre productions, the costume design for "Swan Lake" has an ethereal quality that particularly enhances female dancers, who appeared poised between human and bird with seeming ability to momentarily take flight. Male dancers are appropriately costumed; young Siegfried is princely romantic, and sorcerer Von Rothbart, played by Calder Taylor, is menacingly dark with a billowing cape seeming capable of sweeping up victims.

Ballet Theater's "Swan Lake" is an artistic event on several levels, most importantly in its dance excellence delivered by a troupe including Alexander Collen as Benno, Jillian Cyr and Kaitlin Frankenfield as Siegfried's sisters, Meagan Helman as the Royal Tutor and Alden Taylor as Weapons Master of Ceremonies.

Equally noteworthy are Alyssa Johnson-Taylor as Queen Ilse, Yoshiko Brunson as Von Rothbart's daughter, dancers Heather Mills, Emily Brennan, Eve Holmes, Valerie Walker, Sarah Gilliam, Brian Walker, Daria Laemmerhirt and Aaron Bauer among others, and more than 30 children who contribute to the performance excellence.

The production reveals Odette, who becomes a swan maiden at night. Siegfried and Benno arrive in the forest where Siegfried first sees the beautiful maiden. She tells him of her plight: a spell that can be broken only by true love. Captivated by Odette, Siegfried joins her in a tender dance duet that ends with his expressing hope to see her at his birthday ball.

Von Rothbart has other plans for the loving couple, though. At the ball, he and daughter Odile deceive Siegfried into vowing his love, while Odette looks on heartbroken. This dance became a high point of the production with Allegretti's Siegfried displaying tenderness and prowess as he leaps joyously, as if intoxicated by Black Swan Odile. Kelsch dances brilliantly as Odile in a challenging series of lightning fouettes that seemed to combine precision with abandon.

Among the many rewards of this performance was seeing a near-capacity audience at Maryland Hall — which offered the dancers a standing ovation at the conclusion.

An encore performance of "Swan Lake" will be held at 7 p.m. March 29 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric in Baltimore. Information: 410-685-5086 or

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