Dancing with Joy
On the job with ballerina Charlotte McNutt
by Kat Bennett
Charlotte McNutt spent the evening of her 60-somethingth birthday last October in the happiest way she could imagine: dancing in the Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
“Dance energizes me,” said the lifelong dancer. “It’s why I’m here.” As she prepares to dance the part of the maid in The Nutcracker, she is still glowing from Romeo and Juliet.
A founder of the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, McNutt has devoted her time and energy to the company for 28 years.
“I answered an ad,” she recalled. “We are looking for anyone interested in forming a professional ballet company in Annapolis and have been with the company ever since.”
She has danced, coordinated, promoted and taught. Her enthusiasm is tireless. “I love the sense of teamwork,” she says. “Everyone here is part of a family; everyone works together to make a good show.”
“The maturity, experience and emotion she brings balance the younger dancers,” says company director Dianna Cuatto. “She’s quite a talented character actor. I am hoping to always have her.”
To suit McNutt’s seasoned strength, Cuatto expanded the role of Juliet’s nurse in her choreography of Shakespeare’s tragic love story. “The Prokieff score was shorter,” Cuatto said, “and I wanted to give her more time on stage.”
McNutt is equally inspired about her director. “Dianna always provides clear direction for the characters; there are certain movements and emotions for each,” McNutt said. “In Little Women, I played Aunt March, who was very stern. The choreography reflected that sternness.”
Even off the stage, McNutt has a focused intensity especially when dance is the subject.
“Because ballet was first danced by the aristocracy there is this belief that it’s for stuck-up people,” the ballerina explained as she doffed her nurse attire on her birthday night. “Dance has changed. Today’s ballet is very current, the movements speak to the times.
“People have to see these performances,” she continued. “It’s so much better than they think. Maybe we should create new events, like a poetry slam only with dance.”
McNutt was herself taught by masters: Edward Caton, a Russian-trained American who danced with Pavlova; Oleg Tupine, teacher and star of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; Frederick Franklin, member of the Ballet Russe who later partnered with Agnes deMille in Rites of Spring; Eugene Collins, choreographer for the New York Metropolitan Opera Ballet, an innovator whose Rinaldo included complex tumbling; Ben Stevenson, director of the Houston Ballet, who staged Sleeping Beauty at the London Festival Ballet starring Margot Fonteyn, and the only American to be made an honorary member of the Beijing, China, Dance Academy; and Eddie Stewart, founding director of the Ballet Theatre of Maryland.
A former dancer with the National Ballet of Washington, D.C., McNutt honors all these teachers in her dancing. “I love being able to pass on what I have learned to my students, who will be able to teach to others. It is part of a process that you cannot get except from sharing.”
The Ballerina’s Roles
Writing for Bay Weekly In 2001, Norbert Dubois described McNutt’s 1981 solo in Edward Stewart’s The Eleventh Commandment as virtuoso, “Torso alternately writhing, then slinking, hair flying, eyes focused … unusually dramatic intensity.”
“The center temptation from The Eleventh Commandment was one of my favorite roles,” McNutt recalls. “I got to tempt a monk out of the monastery.”
She danced one of her most difficult roles in The Three Faces of Eve. “I played the evil mother,” McNutt said, “and the sheer force of her insanity and illness was emotionally draining.”
Her role as Juliet’s nurse took her up and down the emotional scale. “I got to be happy because my favorite ward is going to marry a rich man and live well,” McNutt said. “When Juliet is found, apparently dead, my emotions swing the other way. In the last scene I found myself fighting tears.”
“After a performance, there is so much adrenaline. I am just wired,” she explained. “I usually stay and talk about the performance. My husband would be surprised if I got home before midnight.”
In the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, McNutt found not only art but also love.
“We met here at the theatre,” she said of her “totally supportive” husband, Kerry Wormwood. “He was the all-round guy who did lights, sets, props, everything.” He rubs her sore feet too.
McNutt and Wormwood keep house in Lothian for four dogs and four cats. Her four children, three boys and a girl, along with seven grandchildren scattered across the country, keep close through the magic of the Internet.
Following her birthday, McNutt is cutting back. She still teaches full-time but she has eased out of the office work, promotion and fundraising. She dances smaller roles. But she vows she will always stay involved. “Now the company is even more important to me,” she said.
As we talked into the night, she reached into her bag to draw out an old flask. “This was my father’s,” she said. “I keep it with me always. I keep something from my grandmother with me too. In The Nutcracker, the slippers I wear every year were hers.”
Over her career McNutt has danced in more than 340 productions of The Nutcracker, starting as one of the mice. This year she dons her grandmother’s slippers again to dance in the opening party scene.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland dances The Nutcracker Dec. 9 & 10, 16 & 17 at 7pm Sa; 2pm Su @ Maryland Hall, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. $48 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-263-8289; www.btmballet.org.