Review: ‘Innovations 2016’ at Ballet Theatre of Maryland

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There could not be a more apt title for Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s current production than Innovations 2016. This performance of five original works is both timeless and fresh. From traditional ballet steps to more modern feats of athleticism, audience members are dazzled by choreography that is anything but stale.

Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.
Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

The show opens with “A Tribute to the Masters,” choreographed by Heidi Erickson who is making her BTM choreographic debut. Several movements make up this work to music by the likes of Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach, Brahms, and Strauss. Each movement has its own distinct flavor. For instance, Mozart’s section contains sprightly little jumps and hops on pointe by a corps of red-clad ballerinas (Kathleen Baier, Lynne Bellinger, Emily Brennan, Jillian Conjura, Rebekah Hostetter, Emily Reed, Christine Humbach, Isabella Matousek, Hallie Rumsey-Lasersohn, and Sabrina Schulbach). The Bach section, in contrast, features a romantic and gentle pas de duex by Elizabeth Fittro and Diego Sosa. Erickson (who is also a dancer in the company) has created a dance full of movement that so perfectly suites the music, it is hard to imagine any other choreography working as well. Not only has her vision done justice to the “master” composers, the subtle Balanchine influences throughout the piece would do George himself proud.

Next the audience is treated to “Intimate Encounters,” choreographed by BTM’s Artistic Director, Dianna Cuatto, to music by local composer Ryan Lucas. This is the world premiere of this thought-provoking new work. The Man, danced fervently by Roman Mykyta, witnesses glimpses into the lives of five couples (Alyssa Johnson-Taylor with Calder Taylor, Samantha Lucas with Alden Taylor, Alexandra MacWilliams with Aaron Bauer, Sarah Gilliam, with Diego Sosa, and Lynne Bellinger with Alexander Collen) throughout three enigmatic movements. It is interesting to try to figure out what exactly is going on. The Man recalling scenes from his past or is he merely a voyeur? The standout of this piece is Alyssa Johnson-Taylor, who causes audience members experience the delightful dilemma of where to direct their focus when she is onstage: at her heartbreakingly expressive face or her divinely lithe long limbs.

Closing out this dynamic first act is “Bolero,” choreographed by Dianna Cuatto to music by Ravel. Clever utilization of stools, shifting lighting (by Lighting Designer Stacie Johnson-Leske), and sultry, Spanish-influenced choreography showcase the strength and power of MBT’s female dancers. The combination of the sexy, bold movements and repetitive music produce a truly mesmerizing few minutes..

The second act opens with “Episodes” continues the theme of classic composers with music by Rachmaninov. Although the music is lovely, the purple costumes are enchanting, and the graceful lifts and turns are executed flawlessly, this piece is the least interesting of the program. There simply is no “hook” that helps lift this piece from a sequence of gorgeous dancing to a fully realized vision. However, in a collection of dances as high quality as these five are, “least interesting” is still quite superior.

Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.
Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

The World Premiere of “Cycle,” choreographed by Dianna Cuatto (BTM’s Artistic Director) to music by Kevin Keller, closed the performance. Dianna Cuatto’s stunning choreography guides the dancers through a range of human emotions: Struggle, Peace, Joy/Exhilaration, Reflection, Foreshadowing, and Danger. “Peace” and “Foreshadowing” are the most memorable of the movements. Nicole Kelsch and Alexander Collen achieve ethereal perfection in “Peace” and appear to transcend gravity through use of a silk scarf and fluid partner work. “Foreshadowing” contains Johnson-Leske’s creative lighting design and imaginative use of a scrim to craft a dance where a solo dancer (Jillian Cyr) witnesses her “shadows” (Jillian Conjura, Alexander Collen, Diego Sosa, and Roman Mykyta) act out lives of their own.

Tragically, there are only two more performances of Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Innovations 2016 so I highly recommend that you modify your weekend plans to fit this show into your schedule. You will be thrilled, challenged, and, of course, entertained by this brilliant harmony of dancers, music, and choreography.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Innovations 2016 plays through April 17, 2016 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 280-5640, or purchase them online.