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Tudor's Gala Performance, etc. April 4/5, 2014

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Just back from a short but fruitful journey to beautiful, SUNNY (80degF) Sarasota, Florida, where I attended two performances (Saturday's matinee & evening) of the Sarasota Ballet's latest triple bill:

Ashton's Birthday Offering, to Glazunov music (to be repeated twice in upcoming Ashton Festival, which I'll also attend)

Ricardo Graziano's Symphony of Sorrows, to Gorecki

Tudor's Gala Performance, to Prokofiev - last seen in the USA over 10 years ago, in Tulsa, OK

It's hard to believe that Gala Performance, once a 'standard' of the ABT repertoire with the likes of Alonso, Gregory & Jaffe as the Italian Ballerina, has not been seen in America for 10+ years! This alone spurred me to buy an airline ticket and book a hotel in this delightful corner of our country. For me, this was the absolute highlight of my trip. Tudor's 1938 view into the backstage (& front-stage) workings of ballet ca-1900 is one of the funniest and most extraordinary masterworks in all of ballet. The tale of three star ballerinas from, in turn, Russia (technical marvel enveloped in vulgarity), Italy (epitome of arrogance) and France (bubbly frou-frou) have been invited to perform in London's 'Theatre Royal' (Drury Lane?) for one night. Each lady tries hard to upstage the others. Scene One -- to 1st mvmt of Prokofiev's 3r Piano Concerto -- shows everyone warming up and preparing minutes before the curtain ascends; Scene Two is the gala ballet itself, set to all of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony - each of the initial 3 movements starring one of the ballerinas, followed by the final 'coda' with the entire cast. But that's not all! Then follows the hilarious throwing of bouquets, as the Russian tries to scoop-up the most flowers.

The evening cast (which was the first cast on Friday night, which I missed) jelled the best, while I most loved the individual characterizations by the Saturday matinee cast:

Russian - Kelly Yankle -- a dead-ringer for Alina Somova in her longish face/chin and lean physique -- had me roaring in the aisle! (In the evening, Kristianne Kleine was also very good, but Yankle/Somova took the cake!)

Italian - Amy Wood - she had the terrorizing dark-haired 'look' and powerful 'goose stepping' walk down pat, as I recall from earlier ABT ballerinas. (In the evening, pretty blonde Victoria Hulland was a bit too lightweight but, still, mighty fine.)

French - Jessica Cohen - was perfectly ditzy and bubbly. (In the evening, Kate Honea was nearly her equal, if mugging just a tad too much.)

Among the male soloists, kudos to the Italian ballerina's Cavalie in the evening: Edward Gonzalez, total ham in all the right manners. He was my star of the evening performance, for his looks and lightning-quick comic timing.

God Bless this ballet comany -- and the stagers, Sally B. Bliss and James Jordan -- for having brought Gala Performance back to life!

Ashton's Birthday Offering benefitted most from the first cast (which I saw on Saturday night). Stager Margaret Barbieri brought-out the finest, most nuance-detailed performances of the seven female solos that I have ever seen, live or on film. Truly miraculous, let me list all seven first-cast ladies:

Fifield solo - Nicole Padilla

Jackson solo - Danielle Brown

Beriosova solo - Amy Wood

Nerina solo - Kate Honea

Elvin solo - Ellen Overstreet (my personal fave - a languid solo deliciously delivered by Overstreet)

"Grey solo"...but really dancing the Fonteyn solo - Sareen Tchekmedyian

"Fonteyn solo" as per the playbill...but really dancing the Grey solo - Victoria Hulland...also dancing the pdd with Ricardo Graziano - a couple of misteps were more than made-up for with an astoundingly long final balance in first-arabesque, before bending to rest on the cavalier's shoulders for the final pose.

Graziano's Symphony of Sorrows was fine - with many bravo's for the home-town choreographer - but is a tad too dark, as well as too derivative of Kylian's Petit Mort in the way that the dancers move in and out through the dark backdrop. Graziano's best work was a central pas de deux danced on Sat night by Ellen Overstreet and Daniel Rodriguez. Certainly a sensitive choreographer; it would be great to see something more original and 'sunnier' from him in the future.

But the weekend definitely belonged to Tudor and Gala Performance. Bravi!!! Now on to the Ashton Festival, April 30 - May 3.

Edited by Natalia
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Oh Cristian...I think that this program was performed only on Friday & Saturday! I'm still in disbelief that, with exception of their annual Nutcracker 'cash cow,' Sarasota's programs are performed only three times or so -- Friday night opening, then a matinee and evening on Saturdays. So much preparation for only three shows? Crazy!

Hopefully they will repeat Gala Performance next season and you can see it. Try to come to the Ashton Festival (29April - 3 May) next month. Even my mom may be coming from Pto Rico for this one! :)

By the way, it was great to see recent Cuban emigree Gonzalez. He certainly lives up to his reputation, e.g., fantastic long-lasting pirouettes (performed as the cavalier to the Italian Ballerina).

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With visions of the original Ballet Theatre cast still in my head, of the current Company I would like to see Gillian Murphy as the Russian and Veronika Part as the Italian (my perfect choice .would be Lopatkina). The interpretation of the French Ballerina is dated--it was always a weak part of the ballet (even when Janet Reed did it)

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Correction made above & important enough to warrant a new post:

In reviewing my notes of the Saturday evening performance of Ashton's Birthday Offering, I realized that the 'Fonteyn variation' (the difficult one with many legbeats, to a brisk violin tune) was actually danced by the pennultimate ballerina, Sareen Tchekmedyan. Wearing the bright-gold Fonteyn costume, Victoria Hulland danced the softer Beryl Grey variation, to a dreamy tune with clarinet segments.

It's a shame that a company that is usually so meticulous in its staging and casting of Ashton ballets would do this. Well, nobody is perfect. However, Sarasota Ballet needs to be careful to at least note changes -- the names of the ballerinas' variations are spelled-out in the playbill -- so as to not hurt its 'Ashton Expert' reputation.

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