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Ashton Festival, April 30 - May 3, 2014


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Iain Webb began the night with a 'tribute film' of his recollections of Ashton, then appeared on stage to place a laurel wreath atop the head of Ashton, whose bust adorns the audience-right corner of the stage all week.

Oh how sweet!

I'm glad to hear that Facade went well. I've seen it in less felicitous situations, when it felt thinner.

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Thursday recap:

Jane Prichard, the Dance Curator of the Victoria & Albert Museum, hit a 'home run' with her vivid presentation on Ashton's early years as a choreographer, primarily with Rambert/Ballet Club in the late 1920s/early '30s. A highlight was heretofore-unseen long clip (6-7 minutes?) of Ashton's Foyer de Danse starring Markova...many of us have seen the one minute clips in Ashton documentaries but not the treasure shown yesterday. Ms Pritchard hinted that Foyer exists 100% on film -- as do other early Ashtons -- and that revivals would be possible. Maybe this will be the 't.b.a. Ashton' that Iain Webb plans to present during the 2014/15 season of Sarasota Ballet, we're wondering? The afternoon film was the famous BBC film of the ballet Enigma Variations.

The evening's performance included a delicious rendering of Les Rendezvous, with newly-restored (constructed) set of the most beautiful William Chappell designs (the ones with the huge gate and blue sky with puffy clouds) and costumes. As Webb explained in a preceding film -- there's a little film before each performance in which Webb chats about the ballets to be seen that night -- the 'gates design' no longer exists in any N.Am. or European ballet troupe and, hence, Sarasota had to rebuild them from scratch...so other ballet companies in North America may soon be able to rent them & present this treasure of a ballet not seen in this staging in the USA since ABT did it in the 1980s. So last night's performance of Les Rendezvous, led by the versatile Kate Honea and elegant-yet-technically-wonderful Ricardo Rhodes, was a winner. This ballet includes my very favorite bit of Ashtoniana: the ultra brisk Pas de Trois, here rendered with effortless crispness and sass by Samantha Benoit, Alex Harrison and Logan Learned...and special kudos to Ms Benoit and Mr. Harrison, who danced featured roles in all three ballets of the night. (It was the Benoit-Harrison Triple Header!)

Monotones I and II followed. This was time to put down my notepad and just luxuriate in the dreamy beauty of these two trios to Eric Satie music. All I can say is 'bravi' to both trios for capturing the intended 'perfume' of these works, e.g., Monotones I like long green scarves sweeping over desert sands, so perfectly matched and synchronized in their movements. Kudos to Ms. Benoit, Mr. Harrison and Ryoko Sadoshima in the first piece and Mr. Rhodes, Ricardo Graziano and Amy Wood in Monotones II...with a special kudo for Ms Wood, a last-minute sub for the indisposed Victoria Hulland.

A second viewing of Facade - in a new cast - closed the program. Kate Honea -- yesterday's Milkmaid, today the Debutante in the Tango-Pasodoble -- was once again a standout, as was her partner (the oily-slimy 'Dago'...Ashton's role!), Juan Gil. Their choreographed bows were to-die-for.

p.s. Favorite Quote of the Day: At the start of her presentation @ the Asolo, Jane Prichard praised the Sarasota Ballet's manner of dancing Ashtons by saying about the previous night's show, "As soon as the curtain went up and the dancers entered [in Birthday Offering], I immediately knew that we'd be seeing true Ashton as he should be performed."

'Nuff said.

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I saw the Chappell designs, gates and all, in a Noriko Kobayashi production in Tokyo about five years ago, so they do exist in Japan at least (though I recognize that is somewhat impractical for N American companies should they wish to borrow them).

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Friday recap:

Tornado Alarm at 2pm, during lunch break! Three honks of a bullhorn. "Seek immediate shelter! Tornado touched down in Bradenton, 5 minutes north. Go now to a secure place!" No tornado but a lot of rain reached us soon after. [imagine such luminaries as Sir Richard Bonynge and Alastair Macaulay hunkering down until the 'All clear" signal was given. smile.png ]

Earlier at the Historic Asolo Theater we enjoyed Sir Peter Wright's vivid and saucy recollectionsof his times with Ashton, including the travails during the re-staging of Sleeping Beauty in 1968 (the medieval-design production that wasn't anyone's favorite) and the naughty goings-on while traveling across America by train with Saddler's Wells during the 1940s/50s. The film was the ca-1989 BBC documentary "Sir Fred," aired shortly after Ashton's death, complete with several rare clips of ballets and recollections by many of Ashton's friends and colleagues, including Fonteyn (perhaps her last interview before her illness took a turn for the worse?).

The evening's performance began with a reprise of Birthday Offering with a completely different cast, most notably the (to me) superior pairing of Danielle Brown and Ricardo Rhodes as the Principal Couple (Fonteyn/Somes roles). We now saw a picture-perfect pas de deux, complete with the arabesque-balanced into attitude poses (before taking hold of the man's shoulders). Bravi! Among the other soloists, the greatest applause - quite merited - went to Nicole Padilla in the first variation ('Fifield'). Padilla has exceled all season with her ultra-fast and clear footwork. (In general, one of the delights of this company is the keen attention to detail in nuances of all sorts PLUS the neat and musical footwork. ABT could learn a few things on how to 'do Ashton' by traveling here.)

Two very different ultra-rare Ashton ballets closed the program: Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1947, to Ravel) and Sinfonietta (1967, to Sir Malcolm Williamson's music). Valses Nobles is a brief (12 minute?) whiff of pink-infused romance, for one principal and four corps couples. Sophie Fedorovich's designs for the original Covent Garden production were reproduced...lovely romantic-tutu tulle skirts for the ladies and maroon-velvel tunics for the men...all-pink (maybe TOO PINK?) walls, large transparent screens and a hint of palm trees to the sides (silhouette lighting effect). Many high, slow, languid lifts and swoons. Danielle Brown and Ricardo Graziano, as the leads, perfectly captured the essence of this world of debutantes and their swains. Some of the moves - such as the pinwheel circle in the center - seemed to 'borrow' from Balanchine's Cotillon.

Sinfonietta is a neoclassical work to modernish score that is not too pretty, but neither is it dissonant and ugly. The initial brisk movement ('Tocatta') is set against a bright blue simple background; it is for two virtuoso couples & involves a lot of quick footwork and bopping up and down. Kate Honea/Alex Harrison and Nicole Padilla/Juan Gil, acquitted themselves very nicely. The 2nd movement is danced by five men and one lady, all clad in white with little skullcaps, danced in total darkness except for the spotlight on the dancers. This is, to me, is Balanchine's 'Ivesiana-Unanswered Question'-meets-Monotones II. The pliant Victoria Hulland looked heavenly as she was held aloft, swooped and scooped by the five men. The ballet ends with a 3rd-movement Tarantella, set against an orange backdrop. A solo male (the fabulous Ricardo Rhodes once again) and the two 1st-mvt couples dance the furiously-difficult taratella, with a corps of 12 hard-working, ever-bouncing dancers. Not exactly vintage Ashton but still a lot of fun to see.

Final day on Saturday will include the last performance: Illumination reprise, Divertissements (including rare glimpses of Jazz Calendar-Monday and La Chatte), and the grand finale: Les Patineurs. Earlier, we'll attend company class then enjoy a Critics Roundtable Panel.

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Thanks for the reviews, Natalia! I have also read the rave reviews in the Sarasota Herald (online). Heading down soon for Sarasota for tonight's final performance at 6pm. Now I am really looking forward to it after reading the reviews.

I saw Les Rendezvous last season and loved it as well as La Fille mal gardee (which I read will be performed again next season).

Too bad I no longer live in Tampa. I would have been able to attend all nights, b/c Tampa is only an hour away. But today will be a 3 hour drive! Ugh!

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What a joy last night's closing gala was! I was wondering if I would regret driving 3 hours to see the final night of the Ashton Festival, but I was glad at the end of the night that I went.

Sarasota Ballet's dancers showed a fluid upper body and nice arms that is not often seen in this country. Kbarber, who I met and who is very nice, tells me that the class earlier in the day showed how the upper bodies are stressed in their classes, because Ashton stressed this. I saw better arm movements last night than on videos by the Royal Ballet which I often find very stiff in the upper bodies. This is a quirk of mine. I like to take the waist down for granted and love when the arms and upper bodies are flowing! Sarasota Ballet's dancers were not as amazing with their arms as Vaganova trained dancers, but they came close at least in this repertoire!!!

The evening started with Illuminations which was surreal. Monotones 1 and 2 were originally scheduled but I was glad to see this rare ballet. No way to really understand what is going on, but the costumes and dancing were fascinating. This is where Amy Wood (Sacred Love) and Ellen Overstreet (Profane Love) showed off their flowing arms. At moments it was almost (not quite, but almost) like watching Mariinsky dancers. Ricardo Graziano (who I saw as Colas last season in La Fille mal Gardee) was terrific in his turns and leaps. He is great in his solos and when partnering. At moments I wished they had performed this without a tenor singing the songs. I found him mediocre. Maybe he had to learn this music quickly. No idea. The audience loved him, but after 20+ years of opera listening I am really picky....I guess I should cut him some slack. I guess not everyone can be Pavarotti or Domingo or even Polenzani!

Divertissements came next. Ellen Overstreet was fun and sexy in Jazz Calendar staying in character even for curtain calls rolling her shoulder! During the Awakening pas de deux for Sleeping Beauty I thought Ricardo Rhodes betrayed the fact that Sarasota Ballet is still not quite at the international level at all times. He has actually impressed me in the past (I think in Les Rendezvous last season), but somehow he was off his game and seemed to have a hard time turning Victoria Hulland in the overhead turns. He also seemed a bit tentative in his solo moments. Maybe he is injured or nerves before a packed international audience got to him. La Chatte was danced by Kate Honea, and she was cute and in character as a cat trying to be a woman.

Then, came the Meditation from Thais with Danielle Brown and Edward Gonzalez (a former National Ballet of Cuba dancer). These two were FABULOUS and brought tears to my eyes as I thought about a past love myself as they danced. This was one of the highlights of the night for me.

Voices of Spring with Jessica Cohen and Ricardo Graziano was exuberant and beautiful too. A good piece to end the divertissements with....

And the cherry on top: Les Patineurs and Logan Learned (who I have seen in the trio of Les Rendezvous and as Alain in La Fille Mal Gardee) wiped the stage clean with his acrobatics and personality. It should have been called Logan Learned and Friends! I felt like I saw the best Blue Boy I will ever see in my lifetime. He stole the show (which is easy for the Blue Boy to do). The only quibble would be that I expected his turns in second to speed up as the curtain went down. But overall this dancer is incredible. His short stature and cutie pie personality would probably hinder him in other companies, but Sarasota Ballet recognizes what a gem they have and made him a Principal last season I believe.

I saw Miami City Ballet do Les Patineurs and although very professional and nice there was something missing. Sarasota Ballet dancers looked like they were totally in character and having fun!!! At times the Sarasota Opera House stage was a bit too small causing the group scenes to look too crowded, but their exuberance and passion made this a great performance.

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One more thing.....this Ashton festival (the closing night at least....since that is all I saw) did what it intended. It made this audience member want to see more Ashton. His ballets are wonderful! And that is the purpose of Iain Webb putting this festival on, I imagine......keeping Ashton's choreography alive.

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Glad that you enjoyed the gala perf, Birdsall. It was one of the best, esp the end, Les Patineurs.

Saturday report (before I head-out to airport):

The daytime events included a company class at the Opera House, taken by Iain Webb, with the entire company of about 50, incl. apprentices, bunched on the stage. It was interesting to note the constant attention to port-de-bras and the finer nuances of Ashtonian (Cecchetti?) line, e.g., tilts of neck, twists of torsos, etc. We then walked a couple of blocks to Florida Repertory Theater for a 'final thoughts' panel of various visiting experts, emceed by Webb. Most of the distinguished British members of the panel were full of praise for the company, with one of them (Anthony Doyle, I think) said that he's ready to go back to England to punch the Royal Ballet leadership (or similar sweet words).

The evening's final performance began with a reprise of Illuminations, in the same cast as Wednesday, so I won't repeat my thoughts. The real fun for me began with the second portion of the program - the Divertissements:

1. Film of Dame Margot Fonteyn in the solo Salut d'Amour, created by Ashton for her farewell ca-1978/79.

then the live diverts...

2. "Monday's Child" from Jazz Calendar - Ellen Overstreet properly slinky in red unitard and silver-beaded cap

3. "Awakening pdd" from the 1968 Sleeping Beauty - Miss ????? - a lovely dancer subbing for Victoria Hulland - with Ricardo Rhodes - very sweet, floaty pdd, to familiar music used by Balanchine for Act I interlude in his Nutcracker. The backstage voice announcing the new dancer was an inaudible blur...she was Asian so maybe it was Sareen Tchekmedian...or Ryoko Sadoshima?

4. La Chatte Metamorphosee en Femme - a delightful solo number created by Ashton for Merle Park, originally performed at a 1985 Fanny Elssler gala in Vienna. Kate Honea was both gracious and hilarious in this trifle, in her glamorous white ostrich-feathered tutu.

5. 'Meditation pdd' from Thais - Danielle Brown & Edward Gonzalez - basically lovely but Gonzalez was lacking stamina in his little solo moment. Brown was magnificent, as she has been during the entire festival.

6. 'Voices of Spring pdd' - young corps member Jessica Cohen was a 'knock-out' in this because of her enormous stage presence and energy, partnered by Ricardo Graziano. I'm only a bit sorry that the initial high-lift entrance was simplified to a series of swoops, although we got the high-lift at the exit.

The company saved the very best for last - its acclaimed production of Les Patineurs...in whick Logan Learned as the Blue Skater achieved rock-star status. (Logan and the late Mark Goldweber of the Joffrey will forever be my perfect Blue Skaters.) Instant standing-o and big volley of 'bravos' from the happy audience. Thank you, Sarasota Ballet!

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Forgot to mention Logan Learned's wonderful moment when he did a series of turns ending in a held balance in cou de pied position. Not to mention the armless cartwheels (not sure what the technical term for that is)! Maybe Natalia can help with that!

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Thanks, Mary!

Birdsall, the 'armless cartwheels' seem to be a Logan specialty - straight up-and-down position with feet pointing to ceiling and head above the floor. Usually I see the Blue Skater performing 'rivoltades' with the body more parallel to the floor, as one can see from Stephen McRae in the recent DVD.

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for lack of better identification(s), the flying jumps traditionally associated with the "blue" skater in LES PATINEURS were called "butterfly jumps" in and around the British dancers working w/ Ashton, and indeed as noted by Natalia, were more parallel to the stage, than the more vertical moves executed by Logan Learned. depending on the execution of this version of the move, there is a sometime reflection of a floating, flying jump familiar from the vocabulary of traditional, theatrical, Chinese acrobatics.

the closest 'standard' move to what LL does might be what i believe gymnasts call an 'ariel.'

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Thanks for the proper terminology, RG. I checked the three TV versions aired during the 1970s/80s and noted the following with respect to that moment in the Blue Skater's role:

ca1973 (?) - Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet, BBC telecast - Kim Reeder - performs the 'ariel' (like Logan Learned), with the last two totally up-and-down (perpendicular to stage)

ca1974 - ABT, PBS telecast - Fernando Bujones - quite different choreography - first he naughtily snakes among the corps couples, then does a manege of Soviet-style grands jetes with only one bounding step in between each jete ('barrell turns').

ca1978 - Joffrey at Art Park, PBS telecast - Mark Goldweber - performs the parallel-to-floor 'butterfly jumps' just like McRae does in the recent RB DVD.

Interesting that the Sarasota stager, Margaret Barbieri, performed in that 1973 telecast (was part of the SWRB)...and that Logan Learned performs movements closest to those of Kim Reeder, the SWRB Blue Skater. In other words, I don't think that it's just how Learned likes to do them but, rather, he is following Ms Barbieri's teachings/recollections.

p.s. - I'd KILL to see Simkin' and/or I. Vasiliev perform the Blue Skater, even though neither was trained in Cecchetti...but still. That alone should be reason for ABT to revive the ballet (with proper steps and designs, as it did 10+ yrs ago...not the 1960s/70s Cecil Beaton edition).

Edited to correct Mr. Reeder's first name, i.e., he is "Kim,' not 'Brian.'

Edited by Natalia
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thanks, N for all the video observations, tho' i'm not sure who danced in the SWRB vid, but Brian Reeder is the name of an American dancer - w/ careers, out of SAB in NYCB, Frankfurt B, and ABT. he's too young to have been in a 1970s SWRB production, unless someone else was named Brian Reeder.

currently Reeder is resident choreographer of Ballet Next.

btw, Gillian Murphy made one of her first 'big showings' at ABT dancing the fouette segement of the girl in blue, not sure of the date...

p.s. added later: i just looked up a listing for a SWRB film of PATINEURS w/ none other than Brian Shaw as the Blue Skater - such slips are frequent when writing about dance and dancing: Clive Barnes once filed a review of Taylor's ARDEN COURT calling it ARDEN FOREST; Kisselgoff filed a rev. of Smuin's Rodin-inspired "Eternal Idol" naming it "THE FALLEN IDOL" - so easy to do...

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RG, my own notes for the vid indicate:

Thanks, RG. The casting credits are cut out of my copy. I got names from the kind person who I visited 20+ yrs ago in UK and made me dub. smile.png

She wrote for me:

Blue Skater - Reeder (now assume to be Kim Reeder...not Brian)

Blue Girls - Lois Strike & Marion Tate

White pdd - Vyvyan Lorayne & Carl Myers

p.s. - Just checking my copy of the Alexander Bland tome, The Royal Ballet: The First Fifty Years, which lists names of all dancers in key roles in both RB companies through 1980. Indeed, a man by the name 'Reeder' danced the Blue Skater some 22 times, between'73-79 at the SWRB company (page 302 - 'Les Patineurs' segment of the page). So maybe my friend was right? Maybe it was another Mr. Reeder (different first name)? Maybe the real 'Brian Reeder' was a guest artist of the SWRB for an extended period?

EDITED to indicate Kim Reeder, not Brian Reeder, as likely Blue Skater in the 1970s BBC telecast. Also, added many "y's' to Ms. Lorayne's name.

Edited by Natalia
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Thank you, Jane. Mystery solved. I've corrected first name of Mr. Reeder-of-SWRB in the above posts #40 & 42.

Indeed, rg, I remember Gillian Murphy as a wonderful 'turning blue girl' in the last (?) ABT productions of Les Patineurs, ca-1998/99 at the Kennedy Center, which surely continued to the MET season in NY that year. Thankfully, ABT went back to the original RB designs (as we saw in Sarasota), as opposed to the Beaton designs seen in the PBS telecast of the mid-1970s.

Rg, the Brian Shaw clip to which you refer would have been much earlier (50s?60s?) than my BBC telecast film of the 1970s...but you already know that. :)

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