‘An American Southwest Carmen’ at Ballet Theatre of Maryland

To close its 2014-2015 season on March 14, 2015 at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, Ballet Theatre of Maryland chose An American Southwest Carmen – a work originally choreographed by BTM Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto in 1997 and revised in 2005 when first presented for BTM.

 Jillian Cyr (Carmen) with Alexander Collen  (La Fontaine), a cavalry soldier who is competition for Viejo Wells. Photo courtesy  of Maryland Ballet Theatre.
Jillian Cyr (Carmen) with Alexander Collen (La Fontaine), a cavalry soldier who is competition for Viejo Wells. Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

An excellent choice for Bowie An American Southwest Carmen marked a major artistic first as the initial artistic collaboration of Choreographer Cuatto and Conductor Anna Binneweg who led the Londontowne Symphony Orchestra in a live performance of Bizet’s timeless score to accompany in performance dancers of Ballet Theatre of Maryland. A first collaboration of two artistic groups and of their directors – two renowned women artists together in the first of several planned collaborations.

Complete with Bizet’s Carmen in live orchestral accompaniment, An American Southwest Carmen is an original theatrical work set against the backdrop of the Mexican-American War and celebrates three historical Hispanic women who survived frontier life in the 1840s Colorado Territory. It tells the story of a true life Carmen – notorious female smuggler Carmen Candelaria Senna complete with her passion and betrayal to reveal the tragic events of her murder

Another first was marked by Cuatto in casting this newly revised version of her historical ballet by choosing principal dancer Jillian Cyr to dance the role of Carmen as her first full-length ballet debut. Jillian Cyr proved equal to the task bringing Carmen’s fiery passion, sensuality and pathos to life in an astonishing display of dance techniques from Flamenco to Classical ballet. Investing her Carmen with naturally seductive hip movements, Cyr’s Carmen signals her smoldering interest in Viejo before dazzling La Fontaine in a fandango and displays fearlessness in consummate trust in her partner as she leaps into his arms and soars above his head. Cyr’s finest moment was in her poignant portrayal of love through her untimely death at the hand of her jealous lover.

Carmen’s love El Viejo Wells was superbly portrayed by Calder Taylor, one of BTM’s most powerful dance dramatists, conveying an amazing breadth and depth of emotions through dance while partnering with palpable sensitivity and notable strength.  At the Bowie production, his lifts had great fluidity that lent a seamless quality.

Having flawlessly portrayed Clara in BTM’s recent Nutcracker, principal dancer Nicole Kelsch in Southwest Carmen Kelsch dressed in all white delivered an exquisitely light ethereal Magdalena Martinez – the “Lady of the White Rose” beautifully conveying her total trust in Taylor’s El Viejo in their pas de deux.

Another principal dancer who contributed to BTM’s most recent Nutcracker – Alexander Collen then as Nutcracker Prince who at Bowie became a dynamic La Fontaine – who dazzled in a fiery fandango with Carmen and later in a fearsome duel with Taylor’s El Viejo. Charismatic Collen instantly gained audience respect signaled in hearty applause.     

Several hallmarks of Cuatto’s innovative compelling choreography were displayed here through dancers’ artistry in interpreting Cuatto’s choreography to form evolving kaleidoscopic pattern changes as dancers shift into different positions at different destinations; dancers conveying transitioning moods from quietly pensive to exuberantly joyous exclusively through the language of dance. Other hallmarks include Cuatto’s spectacular 3-stage lifts expertly executed by athletic dancers in memorable pas de deux, Cuatto’s distinctive diagonal lines of opposing dancers slashing through the air as they cross through each other’s lines with only a single inch or two space.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland has earned recognition as Maryland’s premier professional dance company through the efforts of Cuatto during her twelve seasons as artistic director, choreographing a number of extraordinary new works for this company she has elevated while increasing its number of professional dancers. Cuatto’s ability to recognize and concentrate on dancers’ strengths, developing and expanding through constant challenges so that she can later showcase their individual strengths in key roles earns her dancers’ respect. Grateful male and female dancers are pleased to have welcomed such constant challenges with fearless enthusiasm and superb athleticism.

Calder Taylor (Viejo Wells)  and Jillian Cyr Carmen). hoto courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.
Calder Taylor (Viejo Wells) and Jillian Cyr Carmen). hoto courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

At Bowie Center for Performing Arts production of BTM’s Carmen all challenges were executed by principal dancers with characteristic superb technique and charisma. Having reviewed this ballet when presented in its 2005 revision, I found this version much improved by this larger, more skilled troupe presumably trained by Cuatto.

The main section of Bowie Theater was filled to near capacity by an appreciative and knowledgeable dance audience – seemingly larger than one observed at my earlier visit.  The next performance for Maryland’s premier ballet company is scheduled at 7 pm on March 28, 2015 when an encore presentation of BTM’s audience choice selection Cinderella is slated at Baltimore’s Modell Lyric Performing Arts Center – 140 West Mt. Royal Avenue, here the company debuted last season with their acclaimed Swan Lake to an appreciative capacity audience. Purchase tickets online.

Running Time: 90 minutes plus one intermission.

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 An American Southwest Carmen played on Saturday, March 14, 2015 at Ballet Theatre of Maryland performing at The Bowie Center for the Performing Arts-15200 Annapolis Road, in Bowie, MD.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland performance remains at its Annapolis home in Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts that will close its 2014-2015 season with Innovations on April 17-19, 2015.  For tickets, call the box office at (410) 280-5640, or purchase them online.

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Mary P. Johnson
In retirement, Mary P. Johnson became a freelance arts writer covering the Anne Arundel scene reviewing theater, opera, ballet, and occasionally profiling exhibiting gallery artists. Published every week for over 18 years continuing in the Baltimore Sun Anne Arundel Section, Mary also established arts coverage for the Severna Park Voice, where she wrote for ten years followed in 2011 by writing 11 months for several Patch publications in Anne Arundel and beyond. Mary is a long-time member of the American Theatre Critics Association, and also for ten years a member of JAWS, a national association of women journalists. Listed for the last 15 years in three of Marquis Who’s Who publications - American Women, America and the World, Mary also was twice nominated for the Annie Award in Literary Arts – an honor presented by the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County - which she regretfully declined for ethical reasons. Mary is a strong advocate for the resident companies of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis and for Anne Arundel Community College’s performing arts companies. For more than 20 years she has served on the board of directors of the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum.