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The Play-Goer: Ballet Theatre of ­Maryland’s Aladdin

This theater tells its stories in dance, music and fashion
Diego Sosa ­performs in the title role of Aladdin, and Emily Brennan plays Princess Samira.
      It’s a Friday afternoon and opening night for Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Aladdin is just a week away. Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto is working the company, Maryland’s sole professional ballet, on Act II and tweaking little things — the kinds of gestures, head positions and facial expressions — that will make the performance sing.
      Adjusting ballerina Emily Brennan’s left hand as it rests lightly in Diego Sosa’s right, Cuatto shows the pair how to bring their hands together gently to his right cheek.
      Brennan, who performs as Princess Samira, and Sosa, as Aladdin, promise a dynamic pairing as the production returns to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts after a seven-year hiatus.
     Cuatto emphasizes the theater in Ballet Theatre of Maryland because the performance goes beyond dancing, especially in a story ballet like Aladdin. In Aladdin, the stories “reward us with hope,” she says, “that we can make changes that are needed.”
       Cuatto, who grew up on movies like Sinbad the Sailor, has adapted the story to make its plot clearer. This Aladdin was inspired by Oliver Twist. In the Genie, you may discern a bit of late actor Robin Williams’s playfulness carried through Sean Sessions’ moves and gestures.
      Audiences young and old can expect magic, too, from the lamp to dancers becoming birds and snakes. The score includes the Far East-infused work of Russian composers Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Borodin’s Prince Igor.
       Ballet theater encom­passes many different art forms: visual art, fashion and acting. These intertwine with the dancers’ expressions and movements set to music to inspire emotions.
       “The body doesn’t lie, whether it’s feelings of joy, sorrow or fear, all of the qualities the dancers are portraying,” says Cuatto.
      Aladdin’s demand for choreography more angular than the fluidity of a traditional ballet means extraordinary work for Cuatto and the dancers. Developing that level of detail is “better for the audience,” she says, because it’s how the dancers tell the stories. “The dancers can feel the audience respond.”
      Cuatto should know, a dancer herself — she’s danced the parts of the Snow Queen in the ballet of the same name and Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.
       Her favorite aspect of any show is its presentation, when the dancers make the ballet “the artwork of the many.” In Aladdin, that’s 55 dancers, representing diverse origins, near (Virginia) and far (Australia), as well as body types. That’s variety Cuatto considers healthy and hopes to impress on the younger audiences the company dancers reach as they travel to schools around Maryland.
       A trip to the Daryabar — replete with Eastern treats and a meeting with Aladdin and his thieves, Princess Samira and others — precedes the Sunday matinee at 1 pm.
F 7:30pm, Sa 7pm, Su 2pm, Maryland Hall, Annapolis, $52 w/discounts, rsvp: