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Ballet Theatre of Annapolis' Sleeping Beauty

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Ballet Theatre of Annapolis, April 15 and 16, Maryland Hall.

With the beautiful new production of the third act from The Sleeping Beauty that Ballet Theater of Annapolis presented last weekend at Maryland Hall, the company once again shows, as it did with its recent second act of Giselle, that it is possible for modest local companies to present pocket-sized versions of the classics that, in many ways, approach the quality of the grandest professional companies, and it's not always necessary for local residents to go to Washington or New York to see first-rate ballet. In fact, there were moments when it appeared that BTA might be ready to outgrow Maryland Hall's modest setting, and it's not inappropriate that the company will soon change its name to Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

This act, also known as Aurora's Wedding when it's presented as an excerpt, shows us the wedding of Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund, after he's awakened her from her hundred-year sleep with a memorable kiss. In this act, various fairytale characters come to court to pay homage to the royal couple, who themselves conclude the act by performing one of the most challenging pas de deux in classical ballet. This act contains some of Tchaikovsky's grandest music, which BTA's artistic director Edward Stewart has wisely expanded upon by including the lovely and familiar Garland Waltz from the ballet's first act.

As Aurora's Wedding is set in a royal court, the design is of paramount importance, and it was gratifying to see that BTA did not skimp and present us with the threadbare castles that sometimes mar bigger company's productions of the classics. Jane Wingard and Sid Curl sketched an effectively elegant court with their pillared backdrop, and Juliet Shore gorgeously dresssed BTA's dancers in the finest classical tradition - no rentals or hand-me-downs here! Ballets such as this are often called, sometimes condescendingly, "tutu and tiara" ballets, yet Miss Shore's stunning costumes (and Jennifer Hankins' tiaras) showed just how powerfully a properly made tutu can enhance a dancer's authority and stature, and help the women fortunate enough to wear one make the transition from ballet dancer to ballerina (the two terms are not synonymous, although they're often used that way). It was gratifying to see so many ballerinas, both American and foreign-born, last weekend. I was particularly struck by the shimmering Silver Fairy's tutu, although it seems unfair to single out a favorites - any of these creations would look just as much at home on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House or the Mariinsky as Maryland Hall's. It's unfortunate that murky lighting and occasional sound miscues marred an otherwise first-rate production.

After introducing us to the appropriately regal Charlotte McNutt and Anton Wilson as Queen and King (they have the challenging task of sitting on their thrones and drinking wine for the rest of the ballet), Stewart brings out the Lilac Fairy, danced by the tall and leggy Leslie Bradley with the right combination of haughteur and authority, who introduces the various fairyland characters who return to dance later. The short divertissment for the four Fairy Princesses (Emerald, Gold, Silver and Diamond, as danced respectively by Anmarie B. Touloumis, Amber Lynn Zecker, Jennifer Dancesia and Natasha Kiryanova), fairly glittered. A few of these women chose to dance fairy variations from the ballet's Prologue, but all were very well-danced, each bringing personality and style to their solos: Touloumis' air of sultry langour, Zecker's brightness and attack (in the finger-pointing "Violente" fairy variation from the Prologue), Dancesia's softness and strength and Kiryanova's piquancy. One of the delights of BTA's short seasons is the chance it gives us to see how much these dancers have improved over time.

Stewart's staging of the Garland Waltz, for twenty-four dancers, was a welcome interlude, and seemed not at all out of place in this wedding act. I particularly liked his use of children from BTA's school (never treating them as less than adults, here), but wished the Maryland Hall stage was just a bit bigger, so his compositions would have had more room to breathe. Amy Litwiller was both sensual and aloof as the White Cat in her flirtateous duet with the tomcattish Puss-in-Boots of Dmitry Malikov, who didn't let the occasional flurry of scratches from Miss Litwiller diminish his ardor, or his clear delight in his magnificent red boots. In the celebrated Bluebird pas de deux, Ninel Cherevko's delicate musicality and sweet phrasings were a delight, as was her clear strength and technical assurance. Jeffrey Watson performed admirably in a role for which he might not appear to have been naturally suited, drawing applause with his brilliant footwork in the profoundly difficult fluttering leaps in the duet's coda. It was hard not to feel a bit guilty at the pleasure I had in seeing Jennifer Hankins' sweet but befuddled Little Red Riding Hood in the grips of Andrey Shevaldin's frayed yet elegant Wolf, who repeatedly cornered Hankins with his huge leaps, and whose repeated rubbings of his doubtless-growling stomach left little doubt as to his intentions for the poor lost girl. No rescuing woodcutters here! Thankfully, Stewart omitted some of the ballet's drearier fairytale guests, such as Tom Thumb.

In the Grand Pas de Deux between Aurora and Prince Florimund, Zhirui Zou easily surmounted the role's technical challenges to create a beautifully realized portrayal of Aurora that compares well to such past great Auroras as Margot Fonteyn. Zou gave full weight to the many charming images of growth and authority in Marius Petipa's choreography, and where too many dancers mistake a fixed, unchanging smile for royal grandeur, Zou's Aurora was a breathing and ever-changing picture of a powerful young woman reaching her (somewhat delayed) adulthood. It almost goes without saying she has thrilling carriage of her arms, and great strength and clarity to her technique. Dmitry Tuboltsev's Prince carried Zou through the adagio's intricacies, including the showy and somewhat scary fish dives, with aplomb, and danced his solos with his usual flash and virtuosity, and somewhat more than his usual poise.

BTA's performance began with several of Stewart's own settings of fairy tales, as this was a children's program. This was not as terrifying for adults as a glimpse at the program might have indicated. Highlights were five of the company's best dancers doing a very classical divertissment dressed as pigs (and a hedgehog), a lovely romantic duet for Zou and Shevaldin, as a frog who's turned into a prince by her kiss, and Cherevko miming and dancing her way through Snow White with as much authority and poise as if she were performing the first act of Giselle. Christi Bleakly was a strong though harried Alice in Alice in Wonderland, which offered such delights as Tuboltsev's and Shevaldin's over-the-top mime as the Mad Hatter and March Hare, and, my personal favorite, three rather large and leggy chickens flapping their wings (or attempting to), to the Saint-Saens cello piece most commonly heard by dance-goers as the accompaniment to Fokine's The Dying Swan.

If you'd like to see some pictures of Miss Shore's costumes, click on this link:


[This message has been edited by Manhattnik (edited April 18, 2000).]

[This message has been edited by Manhattnik (edited April 18, 2000).]

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Gorgeous costumes, Juliet. Manhattnik, thanks for the review and for bringing Juliet's costumes to our attention.


P.S. I'm having computers nightmares. Downloaded a file with a virus. The message started with "Hey, you!" If you get one of those, ignore it; horrible stuff!

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I'd just like to point out that this was written for the Annapolis Capital, so I tried to put in a bit more explanation than I would if I'd been writing for Ballet Alert (I think most people here know what The Sleeping Beauty is about!), and tried to avoid those funny French words (I also think most BA readers would know that those "fluttery" jumps in Bluebird are brise volees. Right?).

Being a Manhattan snob, I'm really not that familiar with the quality of most "regional" ballet companies (I'm ducking for cover as I use that dreaded word), let alone "civic" ones, which is what I'd considered BTA. I have, however, been quite impressed with what Stewart has been able to put together on what must be a shoestring budget. Zou and Cherevko are both fine dancers, and would look good gracing just about any company. BTA, soon to be BTM, seems ready to make the next move up the ballet-company ladder -- I hope it can manage this successfully without losing the small-town charm that has pervaded the performances I've seen.

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Manhattnik said:

"most BA readers would know that those "fluttery" jumps in Bluebird are brise volees. Right?"

Well, most probably do, but I for one liked the reference to fluttery jumps to get the picture and then would really also appreciate seeing the term "brise volee" right beside it.... just for the next time I see it used without the 'fluttery' part.

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Hi. This is really quite crazy... I've been looking through old posts on Ballet Talk and have found them quite interesting, especially because I am not a regular on Ballet Talk (I usually stick to the Ballet Talk for Dancers site). I am very excited to see that there have been numerous posts about Ballet Theatre of Maryland, as I trained at the school (back when it was still BTA and through all of the changes and difficulties following). The funny thing is that this specific review indirectly mentions me, as I was one of the children crowding the stage! It seems like so long ago...aside from Nutcracker, this particular performance was my first experience working with Mr. Eddie and the company.

Manhattnik, I was wondering first, if you are still active on this site, and second, if you still attend BTM's performances and write reviews; if so, I am extrememly curious to know your opinion of the company now, especially because of everything it has been through these past few years. Now under the direction of Dianna Cuatto, in my opinion it still maintains the spirit Eddie enstilled from the beginning, but is also making big changes with its repertoire and source of dancers. I would like to know what others think, if anyone has witnessed or been a part of BTM recently.

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The archives hold quite a treasure chest of surprises, indeed! And welcome to this BalletTalk, Isabeara!

Unfortunately, Manhattnik has not posted in over a year, but maybe you could tell us about BTM -- what they're up to these days and what's happened there over the past five years! What ballets have they been dancing lately?

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I would love to! Of course, this is my view of what has happened, and so anyone with more information, please do not be offended by my obvious bias, but rather share your views as well. In summary, after Mr. Eddie died, the school and company went through a rough two years, with no artistic director and the never-ending problem of a budget too small to maintain their status, much less find and pay a new director. But they survived, just as they always have, and managed to pull of some great performances anyways, by working with guest choreographers and restaging old works. Last August (2004), the Board finally found an artistic director willing to commit to BTM- Dianna Cuatto, who had spent the last few years as Ballet Mistress at the Richmond Ballet (working with the trainees and apprentices mostly, I believe), and had previously danced with Ballet West among numerous other companies for which she danced and directed. I love BTM for its atmosphere; Mr. Eddie created a company with an extremely rare overall good nature, with very little caddiness and competition, and a lot of genuine optimism and care. Ms. Cuatto took (and is still taking) a great deal of time and effort to make sure that this atmosphere would continue under her direction, which is why she has been so great for the company. It has changed dramatically, because no two directors are alike, but I honestly believe her outlook and aspirations for the Company lie on a very similar wavelength as Mr. Eddie's did. One major and obvious difference though, are the dancers. Previously, many if not most of the dancers were foreign (usually a little bit older but fabulous none the less... I was actaully always awed at how such a tiny company could bring in such phenomenal dancers), but almost all left either with Mr. Eddie's passing or shortly after (though many of the American dancers stayed...only one is still with us today and that is the ever fabulous, gorgeous Anmarie Toulomis). Ms. Cuatto brought with her a handful of dancers from the Richmond Ballet and its trainee program, and last summer brought in even more young apprentices from all over the US. Right now we have a Company of about 10 dancers and 16 or so apprentices. This season, there will be four levels of apprentices, some who, in my opinion, deserve to be in the company but sadly because of lack of money, are still apprentices, and others who are on their way, but need that extra push from student to professional. Ms. Cuatto is absolutely amazing when it comes to bridging this gap, and I think this is one of the reasons BTM is heading in such a good direction. She is an amazing teacher; it's difficult to describe just how good but please take my word for it. And even though she is the Artistic Director, she NEVER stops teaching. For a small company, this is crucial. Not all of BTM's dancers fit "the mold" (nor have they ever), but they all hold this passion that makes any performance quite an amazing experience; Ms. Cuatto, like Eddie, looks for this when choosing her dancers, just as much as she looks for technique.

Though I'd rather not go into my story, because it is quite long and could be a whole other post, I will say that after being a part time apprentice while finishing my last sememster in high school (2 years ago...weird how it seems so long...), and going away to major in dance in college this past year, I have decided to accpet the full time apprentice contract Ms. Cuatto offerend me for this year, and am so incredibly excited and happy to be dancing with BTM full time (dancing all day long everyday=beautiful!) Right now, we are about to start the summer program (which all apprentices are required to attend) and the Company season begins August 18th. I think our first ballet is Little Women, which should be interesting... if it anywhere close to being as powerful as Cuatto's The Scarlet Letter, which she set on in Spring 2004, then I know it will be fabulous. This past year she also choreographed a new Nutcracker which we will be doing again this year, after the Company performed Mr. Eddie's 20-some year old (but amazing and always inspiring even after so long) choreography for the last time the previous year. I am momentarily forgetting what is planned for the sring, though I do know we will be performing many pieces that have already been set throughout the summer and year for lecture demos and the like.

Wow so for some reason, this took a very long time to write, and I hope it makes some sense, espceially to anyone close to BTM, or anyone out there looking for a small but amazing company... I know, I know, I am VERY biased, but I credit my excitement for the upcoming year for this. I can answer questions if anyone has any, so please do ask.

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Thanks, Isabeara, for your posts. And please continue posting as your season develops. It is wonderful to learn more about our local and regional companies -- both the challenges and the amazing artistic vision and drives that keeps them growing and achieving. :tiphat:

Like you, most of my current ballet viewing is with regional-local companies of various size, especially Miami City Ballet and Ballet Florida. Ballet Talk, in my Opinion, benefits from learning about and encouraging dancers, choreographers, artistic directors, heads of schools, and often stunning achievements on this level. They are the foundation without which ballet's top echelon -- NYCB, ABT, POB, the Royal, the Royal Danish, and even Kirov and Bolshoi -- would quite possibly whither away.

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This site doesn't advise dancers. We are audience-oriented. Try asking on our sister site, BalletTalk for Dancers. You'll find a quick link under the Amazon banner, at the far right. You'll have to register separately, and we ask that you please use the same name there as you do here. Readers of both boards will be able to identify you as you that way.

The best we can do here is wish you both "Merde"! :wink:

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