Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s gorgeous ‘Swan Lake’ pays tribute to artistic directors

At the end of the season, Dianna Cuatto will retire and 'Swan Lake' principal Nicole Kelsch will take on the position

Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s production of Swan Lake is a gorgeous combination of dancing, costumes, and lighting. With choreography by Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto, it is a wonderful staging of Tchaikovsky’s beloved classic. As Cuatto will retire at the end of this season, and Nicole Kelsch, who plays Odette and Odile, is set to become the new Artistic Director, this production is also a lovely tribute to them both.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Nick Eckert.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s ‘Swan Lake.’ Photo by Nick Eckert.

Kelsch brings an innocence to Odette, the princess transformed into a swan by the sorcerer Von Rothbart (Richard Link). Her hands and face express her emotions perfectly, almost constantly stretching outward, like a swan’s neck, but also as if yearning for a human connection. At one point, she kneels face down on the ground, arms outstretched. She leaps and spins across the stage, beautiful to watch. She plays Odile, Rothbart’s daughter, with an arrogance and haughtiness, pushing away the Prince (Alexander Collen) when he tries to embrace her, thinking she is Odette. Kelsch is superbly physical, effortlessly spinning continuously with one foot outstretched.

Collen plays Prince Siegfried with an emotional expressiveness. His arms and hands move almost as much as his legs, revealing his melancholy on being forced to marry, then his passion for Odette. At the performance’s end, he lies crumpled on the floor, heartbroken. He and Kelsch have an incredible connection, with him lifting her above his head, carrying her, as well as bending her over and spinning her around.

Link brings a menacing power to Von Rothbart, pulling Kelsch away from Collen as if on puppet strings. Sometimes he picks her up and carries her off. His battles with Collen are highly dramatic, as he spins around with Collen and shoves him away.

Jalen Williams brings both power and vulnerability to the Prince’s friend Benno, leaping across the stage before cradling his friend and weeping at the end. Victoria Siracusa and Hayley-Ann Vasco give the Prince’s sisters a youthful energy. Their solos are fun to watch, as they spin and leap across the stage.

Christina Fleming brings an authority to the Prince’s mother, the Queen, explaining through hand gestures that her son needs to marry. Daliana Gutierrez gives a lightness to the Royal Tutor, twirling around in pleasure, while pulling back Siracusa and Vasco as they try to approach their brother.

Nicole Kelsch as Odette and Alexander Collen as Prince Siegfried in Ballet Theatre of Maryland's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Nick Eckert.
Nicole Kelsch as Odette and Alexander Collen as Prince Siegfried in Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s ‘Swan Lake.’ Photo by Nick Eckert.

Lindsey Bell and Chang Hyun Seo bring a passionate intensity to the Spanish Princess and Prince, leaping and jumping to the rhythm of the castanets. Sarah Macdonald gives the Hungarian Princess a graceful power as she dances to a Hungarian-type rhythm, while Emily Brennan joyfully smacks a tambourine as the Italian Princess. Lynne Bellinger gives the Polish Princess a delicate energy, spinning and twirling around the stage.

The White Swan Corps dominate the stage with absolute synchronization, looking as if under Von Rothbart’s control. When the Prince’s friends encounter them, they halt, arms outstretched, a few plaintively looking at the men. The Little Swans dance almost hypnotically in a line holding hands, while the Big Swans leap and spin majestically. The fierce Black Raven Corps speedily circle around Collen and Kelsch and appear between scene changes in Act III.

Set Designers Dianna Cuatto and Brian Walker have created a versatile set that allows for quick scene changes. Costume Designer Alyssa Johnson-Taylor’s colorful outfits help identify each character. Odette looks like a swan in a white tutu and feathered headdress, while Odile’s tutu is black and gold, on her head a golden, spiked tiara. Von Rothbart looks like a raven in all black, while the Black Raven Corps’ black dresses have feather-like straps. The Spanish Prince looks like a matador.

Lighting Designer Stacie Johnson-Leske uses effects to heighten the atmosphere. For most scenes, the lights are low, giving a soft, magical quality to the dancing. They turn up to highlight the Prince and Odile’s continual leg spins, while strobe lights flash during the Prince and Von Rothbart’s battle.

As always, Cuatto’s choreography is wonderful. The dancers navigate the stage, and each other, perfectly, always full of energy and precision. Their movements are beautiful to watch and help tell the story. Swan Lake is a fantastic way for Cuatto to celebrate her 17 years as Artistic Director. Only two performances remain, so be sure to catch it!

Running Time: Three hours, including two 15-minute intermissions.

Swan Lake plays through Sunday, February 23, 2020, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 800 Chase Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-280-5640 or purchase them online.

White Swan Corps: Lindsey Bell, Lynne Bellinger, Emily Brennan, Cindy Case, Christina Fleming, Anne Gutcher, Daliana Gutierrez, Sarah Jung, Samantha Lucas, Sarah Macdonald, Marjorie O’Hearne, Sabrina Schulbach, Victoria Siracusa, Brenna Sweeney, Madison Sweeney, Hayley-Ann Vasco.

Little Swans: Sabrina Schulbach, Victoria Siracusa, Brenna Sweeney, Hayley-Ann Vasco; Big Swans: Lindsey Bell, Cindy Case, Sarah Jung; Black Raven Corps: Carrie Cornelius, Sommer Walker, Catherine Welch.


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