Ballet Theatre of Maryland artistic director of Dianna Cuatto has a lot to celebrate with the start of the company's 36th season in October.
Actually, the celebrating begins Sept. 28 with the ribbon cutting and grand reopening of the theater at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, an event marking the first phase of a multiyear renovation project.
The reopening will bring together the hall's four resident companies — Ballet Theatre of Maryland, Annapolis Chorale, Annapolis Opera and Annapolis Symphony Orchestra — all stepping on stage to show off the improvements, including new seating in the main theater and a stage extension.
Ballet Theatre may need that larger stage: Cuatto notes with pride that the company has grown from six dancers to about 40 during her 12-year tenure, and she spoke of the "versatility, passion, depth and energy" of the company.
Lauren Derrig, formerly of North Carolina Dance Theatre, and William Smith of Atlanta Ballet and Colorado Ballet, are new additions. Cuatto says, "These dynamic, fluid dancers bring a wealth of fresh assets to the company."
The company has also added 10 apprentices, some having performed with other major companies and all having made successful debuts in Ballet Theatre's August Summer Intensive performance program. Returning company members include sensitive artists Calder Taylor and Nicole Seitz and the brilliantly dynamic Alexander Collen, Alyssa Johnson-Taylor and Meagan Helman.
In October, the company will launch its first-ever "Vote Your Choice" season — reflecting audience choices that shape the 2014-2015 program.
Cuatto is anticipating the benefits of the new theater space as she plans the staging of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," running Oct. 24, 25 and 26. To show off the renovation, a VIP Season Grand Opening Party will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25.
For the holidays, Ballet Theatre will continue its collaboration with the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, returning with "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 5 and 6.
Performances of "Nutcracker" at Maryland Hall are scheduled for Dec. 13, 14, 20 and 21. This is always a favorite, but the 2014 edition will be bittersweet: Cuatto has announced that gifted ballet mistress Helman, who has served as teacher, choreographer and "a Renaissance artist who embodied the true mission and vision of BTM," will retire at the end of the "Nutcracker" run and relocate to Florida.
Opening 2015, the audience choice for Feb. 21 and 22 is "Cinderella," set to Prokofiev's hauntingly beautiful score. Ballet Theatre principal dancer Nicole Kelsch will dance Cinderella, and Cuatto will end a 16-year performance hiatus to play Cinderella's stepmother.
The company will make its debut in Ocean City the first weekend in March with "Cinderella," moving to a venue that can accommodate its fast-growing Eastern Shore audiences.
Back in Bowie on March 14, the company will present a wonderful match of two artists — Londontowne Symphony Orchestra conductor Anna Binneweg and Cuatto — presenting 'An American Southwest Carmen' set to Bizet's score. The production is the first of what is hoped will be many collaborations between Ballet Theatre and Londontowne Symphony Orchestra.
Of this first collaboration, Binneweg says, "We look forward to showcasing this timeless iconic opera by way of BTM's wonderful dancers, while reinforcing to our audiences the power of Bizet's score. The story of Carmen allows modern-day artists the luxury of reinterpreting these multilayered characters, and we're excited to do this through dance."
Ballet Theatre shapes its identity and mission in being the state's only fully professional ballet company serving all of Maryland, and after its triumphant debut last season in Baltimore — a capacity crowd at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric attended the troupe's production of "Swan Lake" — the company returns March 28 with "Cinderella."
Cuatto hopes many subscribers will order tickets early to attend this season's Modell performance, viewing the company at its best in a theater able fully to accommodate such large-scale professional productions.
On April 17, 20 and 21, the audience choice to close the season will be a program called "Innovations 2014-2015" showcasing the depth and versatility of Ballet Theatre's dancers as they perform new classical, contemporary, modern and jazz-based works.
For information or to order tickets: Ballet Theatre of Maryland, 410-224-5644 or balletmaryland.org.