Ballet Theatre of Maryland Ends 2015 Season with ‘Innovations’

Innovations 2014 square (1)Ballet Theatre of Maryland closed its most successful season to date with three performances of Innovations – a program of classical and contemporary dance – on April 17-19, 2015 weekend at its principal home at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Newly renovated this season, Maryland Hall became a much improved venue in terms of elegant comfort for audiences and better acoustics and lighting to enhance its four resident companies’ productions – Annapolis Symphony, Annapolis Opera, Annapolis Chorale, and Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

Alexander Collen (Prince) holds Nicole Kelsch (Cinderella) over his head. Photo by Bud Johnson.
Alexander Collen (Prince) holds Nicole Kelsch (Cinderella) over his head. Photo by Bud Johnson.

At its Annapolis home this season, Ballet Theatre of Maryland presented four stunning ballets – A Midsummer Night’s Dream in October, The Nutcracker in December, Cinderella in February, and Innovations in April. Of the four Maryland Hall resident groups, only BTM has earned the State’s designation as Maryland’s premier company.

MidSummediumBTM is indeed a ballet company for all of Maryland presenting regularly scheduled programs in Bowie and in Ocean City plus since March 2014 in Baltimore City’s cultural center with annual performances to capacity audiences at the Modell Lyric – Baltimore’s premier classical performance venue.

Carmen square (1)Two sold-out BTM performances of Cinderella were held at Ocean City’s Convention Center. Ballet audiences grow at every BTM performance at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts as evidenced this season at The Nutcracker performances in December and at An American Southwest Carmen in March accompanied by Maestra Anna Binneweg conducting Londontowne Symphony Orchestra.

Innovations filled with Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto’s always innovative choreography proved an exciting end to BTM’s 37th season. Because of a serious fall late in the season, Cuatto was unable to choreograph a new work specifically for this program and instead presented re-mountings of two ballets premiered earlier “Italian Symphonette” and “Wheels of Life” with one premier “Master Pieces of Edgar Allen Poe” commissioned earlier by the Maryland State Historical Society.

Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto.
Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto.

In performance Choreographer Cuatto expressed the speed and circularity found in composer Felix Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony in celebrating the
traditional Italian dances Tarantella and Saltillo while also evoking the rich passion of Italy’s cities. With distinctive Italian brio, Cuatto’s ballet Italian Symphonette created amazing pair dances for three couples – Alexander Collen with Nicole Kelsch, Calder Taylor, with Eve Holmes, and Alden Taylor with Elizabeth Fittro – all exuding spirited verve and, as usual, these three male dancers again displayed confident gusto in their exemplary partnering. In fact, confident partnering and notable gusto were hallmarks of all male dancers in this performance.

Maryland State Historical Society’s commissioned ballet in tribute to Edgar Allan Poe was meticulously choreographed by Dianna Cuatto in four diverse works – Poe’s favorite “Ligeia,” the well-loved “Annabel Lee” followed by his knight’s tale “El Dorado,” and closing with the Gothic short story “The Mask of the Red Death” all four danced to Rimsky-Korsakov’s music.

Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was expressed in dance that captured the poem’s encompassing lyricism denoting eternal love beyond death as danced by Jillian Cyr (Annabel Lee), Alexander Collen (Protagonist), and William Smith as the Angel of Death with the Corps de Ballet echoing the tender sentiment of hopeful young love in the face of tragedy.

Photo from 'Innovations' by Nick Eckert.
Photo from ‘Innovations’ by Nick Eckert.

In Cuatto’s choreographed interpretation of Poe’s enigmatic “Ligeia” wherein the Narrator recounts beloved wife Ligeia’s death and later reincarnation into second wife the Lady Rowena, a dreamlike enduring love beyond the grave brilliantly executed by Calder Taylor. This major actor-dancer conveyed passionate love and tenderness in an exquisite pas de deux with BTM demi-soloist Sarah Gilliam, who became a tender, trusting partner and another exceedingly expressive duet with Alyssa Johnson-Taylor as Lady Rowena.

Poe’s tale of a gallant Knight in search of Eldorado (the Holy Grail) received spirited interpretation by BTM demi-soloist Aaron Bauer (the Knight), soloist William Smith – strikingly forceful as The Grim Reaper, soloist Lauren Derrig in a luminous portrayal of the Holy Grail. These soloists together with the corps de ballet created a spellbinding exploration of shadowy worlds encountered on a gallant search for spiritual riches.

The fourth and final segment was Cuatto’s most dramatic in telling Poe’s “Mask of the Red Death” expressing the futility of trying to avoid one’s fate when a deadly plague arrives without respect for wealth or position. Drama intensified in highly contrasting scenes shifting from dimly lit areas with barely visible dancers where pestilence exists to the brightly lighted ballroom where noble couples – ladies gowned in jewel colors dancing with handsome partners in formal costume.

Noble couples portrayed by Alexander Collen with Heidi Erickson, Peter Elverson with Gaia Rappaport, and Alden Taylor with Elizabeth Fittro created joyous romantic waltzes that became increasingly frantic as they ignored their fate while Death intruded in the formidable presence of Calder Taylor and Pestilence as portrayed by Eve Holmes and Lynne Bellinger joined by Red Death Spawns danced by six BTM apprentices who darkened the ballroom at each appearance.

The program’s final ballet was a dynamic athletic work “Wheels of Life” originally presented in April 2010. An abstract representation of the seven wheel energy center, Wheels of Life is set to the music of Marcus Galiber and explores the elements of sacred sound and the seven swirling intersections of the vital life forces called “chakras” or “spinning wheels of energy.”

A visually stunning ballet, with dancers wearing simple body-hugging black costumes trimmed with appropriate chakra symbolism, the dancers moved in diagonal lines which other dancers slashed through precisely but never mechanically.

Each of the seven chakras were illustrated through dance. Soloists Nicole Kelsch, Alden Taylor, Calder Taylor, Alexander Collen, Peter Elverson and Jillian Cyr brought the segments to life. In the last two chakras Pathways of Light and The Eternal Dance of Cosmic Consciousness showcased the entire cast in a conclusion seemingly unraveling life’s mysteries in essential elements through music and dance.


The 2014-2015 season a wrap, we asked Dianna about next season, and with her usual enthusiasm, she shared: “I am really looking forward to next season with the return of our award-winning full-length Excalibur, a personal favorite, and with the premier of a brand-new full-length production of Sleeping Beauty to add to our The Nutcracker, Alice in Wonderland, and of course an all-new Innovations, 2016.

The company has grown by leaps and bounds and is beginning to make some real inroads in terms of quality, professionalism and servicing the State of Maryland. The company will be bigger than ever next year to meet the demands of such a demanding season, and I believe you will find the incredibly talented dancers a joy to watch!

An American Southwest Carmen at Ballet Theatre of Maryland reviewed by Mary Johnson on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Cinderella at Ballet Theatre of Maryland reviewed by Mary Johnson on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Here is The Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s website.

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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.


  1. Thanks for such a fantastic review! It was a memorable year and we’re already looking ahead excitedly to the 2015-2016 season! Hoping to see lots of familiar faces as well as new audience members!


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