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Balanchine & Ashton, Nov 2013 Program


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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 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! smile.png

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Questions - mostly concerning the designs - on the ballets on view:


The sets and commedia dell' arte-style costumes seem quite authentic. I heard a rumor that the Ashton Trust requires that the original Cecil Beaton designs be used whenever this ballet is staged anywhere in the world. In other words, these may be THE costumes from The Royal Ballet's own 1981 setting, if not what was seen at NYCB in the 1950s. Can anyone confirm or clarify?

Does the Ashton Trust require this of all stagings around the globe, i.e., that sets/costumes come from the U.K., in designs used at the time of inception (or the final versions approved by Ashton himself)? (The only redesigned 1-act Ashton ballet that I've seen outside of the by a non-British company is Rhapsody, in Japan and France. Les Rendezvous was redesigned -- horribly, IMO -- for the Royal ca-2001 too & toured to the Kennedy Center. But that's about it, for 1-act works.)

Who Cares?:

The programme credits designs of this version to Ben Benson...yet the simpler (but very pretty) dresses and simple street-clothes outfits for the men look like those in photos of the 1975 original version, designed by Karinska. Did Ben Benson design a version that is simpler than his 'blingy' version of ca 1982, which served the NYCB until earlier this year?

Is the brief pas de quatre to 'Clap Yo Hands' ever performed anywhere now? I was sorta hoping to see it here. It was danced by the four principals - 1 guy and 3 gals - for the famous CBC telecast in 1975/76...so it could easily be staged, as it exists on film.


I was surprised to see somewhat-different long skirts on the ladies in Sarasota, compared to most versions. Here, the skirts are of one soft-blue color, rather than the (discreetely) multi-colored panels that one sees in Miami, NYCB, etc. Also, the Waltz Man's outfit is very dark here, with what appear to be golden flowers sewn around the neck.

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Iain Webb was at the recent Ashton Symposium in London, and I think I remember him saying that he had borrowed the Illuminations sets and costumes from the Royal Ballet. But this will be for cost and convenience, I assume - the owners of the Ashton ballets will probably insist that the original designs are used, I've never heard that a company would not be allowed to have them made locally.

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Thanks, Jane. This makes sense. My 'rumor' came from a donor (possible Board member?) who told me that the Illuminations costumes cannot be remade locally by companies, i.e., any time that Illuminations is staged around the world, said company must take the original sets/costumes, have them 'pinned'/redone on the local dancers, then MUST undo the pinnings and changes before shipping them back to the UK.

Apparently, according to this lady, the Ashton Trust includes this mandate for the staging of most (if not all?) of his ballets. (In the recent Breaking Point TV show on the staging of Ashton's Cinderella at Ballet West, I couldn't help but notice that the sets/costumes were exactly as seen at the Royal in the 1960s/70s/early 80s.)

My first thought was "No wonder that so few companies do Ashton." However, I totally agree with the concept of maintaining the integrity of Ashton's vision.

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Natalia - I saw Clap Yo' Hands a few years ago at the NYCB with Robert Fairchild. I think they only put it in for one season. I'm told the reason it was dropped so quickly from the original production was that the guy - who has already done 3 PDD - then does his variation and Clap Yo' Hands immediately follows. Very difficult apparently. The ballet is already 40-some minutes long without it, so it is rarely done. Too bad. I thought it was wonderful.

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Thanks so much for all of your answers, Rock, Birdsall, bingham, sandik, Jane. I had almost forgotten about the 1960s/70s Beaton costumes for Les Patineurs...a reduced version that omitted the 'Red Bonnet Girls' segments. Very pretty one-color, minimal-decoration costumes. At later revivals of Patineurs, even ABT went back to the Chapell designs, e.g., the ca-1998 version that starred Kent in the Fonteyn role and Gillian Murphy as the 'fouette girl' among the Blue Girls.

My feeling is that Ashton himself (or executors, such as the late Alexander Grant) instituted the 'mandated designs' clause in response to the often-odd restagings, which compromised the overall integrity of the works. One only has to see the designs of Balanchine ballets used by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet to understand just how sad can be the use of very different costumes....e.g., the recent Nutcracker Flower Waltz (a.k.a. 'Tempo di Valse'), danced in simple chiffon sheaths, instead of the multi-tiered puffy 'romantic' tutus envisaged by Balanchine. Ditto the Farrell troupe's misuse of similar sheaths for Brahms-Schoenberg last year. The movement of the original costumes was part of the choreography; without very similar costumes, it's a different work. BRAVO to the Ashton Trust for insisting on use of the correct costumes, as approved by the master himself.

Turning attention to the set designs...

Illuminations' set features a Parisian-style 'pissoir' in backstage-audience-right. I knew what it was because I had just read documents/reviews of the NYCB and RB stagings...but, good grief, I'm sure that it appeared to be a big silver chimney to most in the audience!

No, we cannot see The Poet using the pissoir; he just goes back and we see his feet, as the Royalty segment begins. The only moves that could be deemed offensive, IMO, are when the Poet and Profane Love 'tangle' on the floor, which is a bit tarty but no big deal in 2013. (The moves seem to echo those in Roland Petit's Carmen; Ashton surely had seen that popular work and borrowed parts.) The other nasty segment -- the throwing of confetti to symbolize 'hand action' by the Poet -- surely escaped the comprehension of most in the Sarasota audience. It would have escaped me had I not read the Vaughan bio of Sir Fred and a few other tomes mentioning the gesture. Everybody with whom I spoke at the post-performance reception had nothing but praise and joy at Illuminations, as well as the two Balanchines.

A bit more on the dancers:

This large company -- 52 full-time pro dancers, not counting pre-professionals from the affiliated Margaret Barbieri Conservatory and dance academy -- boast many special dancers. Of course, we've all admired stars such as Logan Learned, Danielle Brown and Ricardo Graziano at recent performances at the Kennedy Center (Diamonds, with TSFB, and Patineurs). However, there is another ultra-special young dancer in Ellen Overstreet (age 20), who I may have cited above as Profane Love in Illuminations. I cannot praise her highly enough - a dancer of exceptional passion, clarity of movement, beauty and musicality, she danced corps in the two Balanchines, in addition to one of the leads in Illuminations. No wonder that company AD Iain Webb named her Soloist after Friday's show. Please remember her name. smile.png

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