Review: ‘Thumbelina’ by Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy

Thumbelina, the story of a miniature girl who grows from a seed, is kidnapped by a toad, tormented by beetles, and eventually marries the fairy prince, is not one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most well-known tales. Many children coming to see the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre production of the story, set to music by Adolf Adam, edited by Elizabeth Odell Catlett and Ryan Catlett, won’t have been previously introduced to this story and they probably left the theater still not understanding most of what was portrayed on stage. But while the storytelling aspect of this ballet wasn’t the strongest, the dancing as a whole, combined with beautiful flowing costumes in bright colors and lovely backdrops, was strong enough to keep the attention of the audience even if what was happening on stage wasn’t completely clear.

The finale of Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy’s 'Thumbelina.' Photo by Goli Kaviani.
The finale of Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy’s ‘Thumbelina.’ Photo by Goli Kaviani.

Artistic Director Elizabeth Odell Catlett and Assistant Artistic Director Katerina Rodgaard do a good job of making use of the entire stage area, and often they need all that room. One hallmark of this company is that they find a part for every student who auditions for a role. The backside of this policy is that there are times when the stage can feel as though there are too many people on it, with too much movement, and too many different costumes. This was particularly true in an early scene featuring many types of flowers. With so much going on, it was easy to lose the point of the story, and instead of coming together into a cohesive whole, the scene instead felt as if the ballerinas didn’t have enough room to do what they needed to do.

However, other times having a full stage worked well, as in a later scene where Thumbelina was left alone with a group of mischievous beetles. The beetles, played by the company’s youngest dancers, torment poor Thumbelina, who just can’t seem to fit into their groove. Having so many youngsters on the stage at this point in the story worked well, as they created the kind of controlled chaos you probably would imagine a group of young beetles would create.

Throughout the show, the dancing itself was lovely to watch and audience members enjoyed the antics of the many different types of animals portrayed by the cast, including a butterfly, fish, mouse, toad, and mole. There wasn’t much of a pas-de-deux in this story. The role of the fairy prince seemed like almost an afterthought and the audience didn’t really get a chance to see what the dancer playing the prince could really do.

Following a brief intermission after the end of Thumbelina, Metropolitan Ballet Theatre presented a short modern ballet called Reflections. Celebrating the company’s 30-year anniversary, as well as honoring Diane Gotzman, a member of the company since its founding in 1989, this original piece was filled with the power and joy of dance. With dramatic lighting that showed silhouetted dancers performing at the barre in the background, as well as a section called “Thirty” that had 30 dancers sharing the stage at the same time, this piece perfectly showcased the strengths of the company as a whole and allowed the cast members to give the audience just a glimpse of what life behind the scenes at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre has been like for the thousands of dancers who have been trained there over the past 30 years.

Metropolitan Ballet Theatre does an amazing job of keeping their ballets accessible and interesting to the youngest viewers while also providing adults with an engaging experience. Anyone looking to enjoy a few hours of beautiful dance and music performed by some of the most talented ballerinas in the DMV should keep a lookout for the company’s productions, which always feature a surprise or two for audience members of all ages.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with two 15-minute intermissions.

Thumbelina and Reflections were performed March 16-17, 2019, at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College, 51 Mannakee Street, Rockville, MD. For more information on Metropolitan Ballet Theatre & Academy, including their schedule of upcoming performances, go online.