Dance Review: “Momentum” presented by the Ballet Theater of Maryland

Earth, wind, fire and water… all of the elements were present in the Ballet Theater of Maryland’s first online installment of “Momentum” from the tech-savvy performance center at Prince George’s Community College. The dancers stomped, the dancers soared, the dancers sizzled, and the dancers flowed as naturally as a stream rolling down a slope. Add to that the patriotic red, white and blue bloom and an obvious appreciation for the dancers’ joy to be on stage again.

The Ballet Theater of Maryland opens its spring season with a scorching performance.

Maryland’s premier company, BTM is known for the diversity of its repertoire and the joy of its dances. Last Saturday’s program brought together neoclassical ballets (with a touch of George Balanchine, I loved the full set jumping and turning and ending with a salute) as well as a modern take on tribal rites and a glimpse of genius young dancers who presented their choreography.

The PGCC’s live broadcast was the only opportunity to witness BTM’s popular ballets, “American Ballads” and “Shades of Blue,” by director emeritus Dianna Cuatto. His ballet “Shades” is a liquid sculpture chiseled by the lights of Stacie Johnson-Leske and fed by the magnificent music of Camille Saint-Saens, in particular the concertos for violin.

“American Ballads,” set to familiar patriotic folk tunes, has one that taps its foot or swings its head back and forth. The ballerinas, dressed in flamboyant red, in front and centered on the point, frame a ballerina raising her leg and turning at the same time. Wow! She is reminiscent of the New York City Ballet’s Merrill Ashley in a finale of sparkling red, white and blue.

Cuatto’s “Shades of Blue” offers a calmer take on duets and ensemble dancing. It was the occasion to see the dancer / choreographer Isaac Martinez as a sensitive partner of Sarah Jung in “Trust”. Emily Brennan and Alexander Collen were particularly adorable in “Devotion” while Collen returned with Lindsey Bell for “Introspection”. Victoria Siracusa and Richard Link embraced in ‘Tranquility’, yet another Pas de Deux to savor, while ‘Communion’ brought the whole thing together in grand style.

With more modern angled, flexible shoes and a comfy sweater covering the ballet flats, “When We” was glamorous online and should be even more so at the next in-person concert. The ceremonial piece transforms the dancers into a community reminiscent of the unity of an indigenous tribe. With a constant backbeat and tic-doc clicks from the 24 dancers, the ritualism is a reminder that dance can be more fundamental and less fleeting – more substance than fluff. A surprise at every turn, a monologue spoken in Spanish, a few whistles and dozens of difficult lifts performed with ease, this dance keeps its promises.

Coming closer, “Mudita” brings to the stage the energy and spirit of Paul Taylor, the late great choreographer who influenced so many dance designers. Choreographed by Lindsey Bell, with equally catchy music by Antonio Vivaldi, he could have been the audience favorite had there been a live audience. Using classic ballet steps, pirouettes, and a unique arm gate, Bell’s work never falters from the first leap in the air to a grand finish. It is a demonstration dance for male and female dancers. The bright orange tights for the guys and the ombre colors for the ballerinas are lovely, although I wish there was some credit for the costume designer.

Note the soloists Cindy Case in “Red Stripes” from “American Ballads”, Lauren Martinez and Lelan Lewis in “White Stripes”, and the duo of Karissa Kralik and Richard Link in “Blue Field”. The trio Caroline Anderson, Cassandra Hope and Clara Molina also caught my attention, as did Hannah Hanson and Marjorie O’Hearne. A masked strawberry blonde ballerina stood out in the finale of “Mudita”. Kudos also to the film and tech crew, especially Stacie Johnson-Leske who turned on all four dances.

For the outdoor performances in Annapolis, Isaac Martinez and Lindsey Bell will present their new works. A new piece by former company dancer Meagan Helman and another by Marinna Kus are playing. Highlights include the North American premiere of Pavlo Virsky’s “Podolianychka,” a must-see for balletomaniacs.

Duration: Two hours without intermission, streaming.

Artistic Director Nicole Kelsch presents “Momentum” on Friday April 30 and Saturday May 1 at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 800 Chase Street, Annapolis, MD. Members of the public can purchase tickets for in-person social distancing seats. For tickets and more information call the box office at 410-280-5640 or visit here.
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