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2015-16 Season

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My memory is fuzzy, but I believe PNB went through this with the Stowells as ADs. The board chose to separate the AD and ED role into equally reporting to the board. I believe many companies are organized this way. The push-pull between the artistic goals and financial realities often result in clashes. What a shame for Sarasota Ballet.

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I did not regret driving down to Sarasota for its Ashton and Balanchine program. The rare Ashton works help make the company exciting for me, because I am seeing a lot of Ashton I would normally never get to see. The fact that the dancers in Sarasota seem to truly love what they are doing are another aspect that makes them such a joy to watch.

Ashton's choreography to Elgar's Enigma Variations is playful and beautiful.....emotional and touching at times and humorous at other times. To me it seems like a very English ballet due to costumes, setting, subtle choreography, manners, etc. However, the port de bras is almost Russian in style which makes it lovely. I have read that Ashton wanted lots of upper body and arm movement, and it appears that Iain Webb and Margaret Barbieri (husband and wife as well as Director and Assistant Director) and their team have trained Sarasota dancers (many Americans as well as some other nationalities) very well in this style. Enigma Variations is so simple, yet so profound. It is a ballet about friends and friendship, and while it comes off as just a fun little ballet, it has its deep moments that show the emotions of humans and bonds between humans is very meaningful. I loved the chance to see it for the first (and, who knows, maybe last) time. Each variation was simple yet elegant.

Balanchine's Stars and Stripes was the second part of last night's program, and the Sarasota dancers roused the audience in this great choice of a second act. I can't help but wonder if this program is Iain Webb saying, "I love England and Ashton, but I am also loving my new home America and the Sarasota Ballet!" Balanchine really captures the American spirit in this ballet as kitschy as it may be. Lots of energy and athletics and positive outlook. But you never get the feeling he is satirizing America. He is paying homage to his adopted country. I think in this particular ballet Balanchine flat out exposes the connection between ballet, gymnastics, and circus/carnival elements more than any other, yet it is firmly rooted in the ballet vocabulary. I know a lot of people do not like ballet turning into gymnastics, but I personally think there will always be a circus element to ballet whether people like it or not. And Balanchine knew this. He even evokes the Rockettes in the finale (and other places). I think a lot of people want to sit back and sniff, "Bah, humbug!" to this ballet, but little by little its charms win you over and you are like, "What the heck! This is fun!!!!" The Sarasota dancers did not disappoint. I love the sweet cutesy pie look of Elizabeth Sykes in the First Campaign. I was impressed with her baton twirling while dancing, because I never could figure out how to twirl my sister's baton! Logan Learned in the Third Campaign was as always a standout, and his entrechats and split jumps and turns were amazing as always......I think he would be very limited in his roles in a major company, but he gets lots of roles in Sarasota, because he is spectacular. Victoria Hulland and Ricardo Rhodes were Liberty Bell and El Capitan. Both did a great job. Hulland did the gargouillades and balances well, and Rhodes was totally in character even while doing tour de force leaps and turns.

As I drove back home I thought, "This company really has something joyful about it." I think they are excited about where they are and where they are going. That feel comes across the footlights.

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I forgot to mention that Ormsby Wilkins conducted the Sarasota Orchestra wonderfully! For a fairly small city, Sarasota has a lot going on artistically.......Sarasota Opera just finished its many years long Verdi Cycle (the company performed every single opera that Verdi ever composed, so I got to see rarities like Oberto, Alzira, I Masnadieri, etc.) and the Sarasota Ballet is doing all these interesting Ashton ballets due to Iain Webb taking over.

I used to live in Tampa so I was not that far away, and I have watched downtown Sarasota grow through the years into a happening place. It used to look very sad and dowdy and way past its prime with odd shops no one went to. Now it is full of wonderful restaurants and shops and has a buzzing life to it. I think it was wise for the Sarasota Opera (which uses unknown and not always the best singers) to have a specialty like making news for performing all the rare Verdi operas as well as alternate versions like the french Le Trouvere which was fun to see to compare against Il Trovatore which is so famous. They also perform some rare works (unrelated to Verdi) that you never get to see. Somehow this works for them.

I also think Sarasota Ballet is really a company to watch due to the Ashton rarities it keeps programming not to mention the Ashton Festival a couple of years ago. Hopefully, they will one day repeat the Ashton Festival.

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