Greetings from 'Beautiful Downtown Sarasota' (82degreesF on Saturday, Nov. 23), on the first of four scheduled trips this season to experience America's Most Surprising Ballet Miracle: The Sarasota Ballet in its home base, performing the works of Sir Frederick Ashton. I fell in love with this company during the recent Kennedy Center 'Ballet Across America III Festival' where they made a great impact with their spirited and lovingly-danced rendition of Les Patineurs. Ashton definitely lives on beyond the U.K. Since the end of the Joffrey Ballet's deep immersion in the choreographer during the 1970s/80s, Sarasota appears to be the Home of Ashton beyond Britain.
First up: the "Balanchine and Ashton" program of November 22/23, 2013:
Serenade (Balanchine/Tchaikovsky), first staged for SB by Sandra Jennings in April 2012.
Illuminations (Ashton/Britten), company premiere tonight, staged by Grant Coyle.
Who Cares? (Balanchine/Gershwin, arr. Kay), company premiere tonight, staged by Sandra Jennings.
Last night's opener brought the well-heeled glitterati of this lovely little city on the Gulf of Mexico to the cavernous Sarasota Opera House on Pineapple Avenue. Neither they nor I were disappointed. WOW - just wow. There is hope for ballet - great ballet - to survive, well funded by an adoring public. In his opening chat with the public, just before the curtain rose on the first ballet of the night, company A.D. Iain Webb, stated that his passion is "preserving the history of ballet." BRAVO! This statement brought huge applause and verbal cheers from the standing-room-only audience. The rest of America, please take note on the sort of programing that brings in the funding.
So on to the programme, in the order performed:
SERENADE - Very beautiful, soul-felt rendition of Balanchine's romantic-style masterpiece. The corps was well rehearsed, if not quite the cohesive organic 'whole' that I saw in Miami a few weeks ago. However,on the whole, the soloists conveyed certain touching nuances that escaped the Miami soloists, e.g., leading Waltz Girl Danielle Brown captured and conveyed a story of longing and loss through her face and gestures. Very sharp. Ricardo Rhodes was her partner, dancing his solo moments with aplomb. Kate Honea displayed sharp footwork and floating ballon as the Russian Girl, while Amy Wood and Jamie Carter were mysterious and regal as the Dark Angels. The final moments, with the main girl carried off to the heavens, was one of the most touching I've experienced. It didn't hurt to have THE FINEST ballet orchestra that I've heard in a long time, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, in the pit...perhaps the acoustics of the house contributed? Whatever - this orchestra is a treasure. [Local folks told me that this is also a great house for opera, especially Verdi.]
ILLUMINATIONS - The chance to see this curious Ashton ballet once again was the main reason for this trip. I first saw this homage to Rimbaud's poetry (& wild lifestyle!) at the Joffrey Ballet 30+ years ago, then at the Royal Ballet ca 1997. It is a beautifully-designed work (Cecil Beaton's fantastic saltimbanques), to a melodic score for orchestra and solo tenor (here Matt Morgan, a singer of clarity, passion and gorgeous timbre), replete with fascinating 'poetic pictures' to the words of Rimbaud. in this work, Ashton depicts the poet's loss in his quest for the ultimate imagined 'Sacred Love' after daliances with 'Profane Love,' who masterminds the poet's on-stage murder...bloody gunshot wound and all. Ricardo Graziano danced and acted Rimbaud with conviction. Long and lovely Amy Wood was every bit 'Tanaquil LeClerq' as Sacred Love and Ellen Overstreet was fantastic in the Melissa Hayden role of Profane Love, with one pointe shoe and one bare foot. Kudos to the top-hatted demisolo man who performed wonderful pirouettes a la seconde in one of the early scenes. [I have since been told that this was Alex Harrison in the role of The Dandy...Robert Barnett's role in the NYCB premiere.]
I happily spotted the magnificent Edward Gonzalez as one of the four cavaliers of Sacred Love in the Being Beauteous segment! (I'm sorry to be missing today's matinee, in which he dances a PDD in Who Cares?) For fans of the TV reality series Breaking Pointe: Ian Tanzer is here now & did a great job as one of the two soldiers in Illuminations.
WHO CARES? - Well, I care! And so did many others in the audience, who stood and cheered. It is so smart to schedule this toe-tapping ballet as a closer.
Once again, Ricardo Graziano was the leading man & was terrific in his "Liza" solo, as well as in his partnering of the three leading ladies. Victoria Mulholland was crisp and musical, if running out of steam at the end of her solo 'Fascinatin' Rhythm.' Kate Honea displayed lovely fouettes, if not enough panache (more dainty & proper of scale) in the famous diagonals of 'My One and Only.' My lady of the evening was, without question, Danielle Brown, bringing back memories of Von Aroldingen as she tore through 'Stairway to Paradise' with total abandon on a large scale, as it should be danced. BRAVA!
There were some little miscues by the female corps -- including an 'Ooops Moment' during the big opening number, 'Strike Up the Band,' reminiscent of Robbins' Mistake Waltz in The Concert -- that can be forgiven in any company premiere. On the other hand, there were no miscues and nothing but impeccable bravura technique by the five demi-solo guys in their Pas de Cinq to "Bidin' My Time" in which Balanchine pays homage to the Petipa Raymonda's famous male Pas de Quatre. The men of the moment deserve mention: Alex Harrison, Daniel Rodriguez, Jamie Carter, Ricki Bertoni and David Tlaiye.
Sarasota is the place to be, if you love ballet of the 'straight up and classical' variety. My kind of town!