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Sarasota Ballet at the Joyce Theater NYC Aug. 8-13 NYC


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Oh, you lucky dogs in NYC next August: Sarasota Ballet is coming to the Joyce August 8-13 (2016)!


From the website:

To celebrate its 25th season, The Sarasota Ballet presents the New York City premiere of A Knight of the British Ballet, a program dedicated to the choreography of Sir Frederick Ashton. Since 2007, Artistic Director Iain Webb has revolutionized the company’s repertoire, drawing international attention for being the first company since the 1980s to regularly dance Ashton’s work. In true Ashton style, the company performs Façade, the choreographer’s tongue-in-cheek tribute to popular songs and dances of the Twenties, a piece that unites high art with sheer enjoyment. The program also features Valses nobles et sentimentales, a series of waltzes created in 1947 and lost until its revival in 1986.
  • Monday 7:30pm
  • Tuesday 7:30pm
  • Wednesday 7:30pm
  • Thursday 8pm
  • Friday 8pm
  • Saturday 2pm & 8pm

Tickets are onsale now. Call JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800 for $10 tickets. All other tickets can be purchased online.

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Can anyone please comment on this program? I am trying to plan my summer vacation and can't decide how important it is to me to see Sarasota Ballet, as against my summer vacation. I have not seen Sarasota Ballet before and do not know either of these pieces. The description of Facaded as "a tongue in cheek tribute to the popular songs and dances of the twenties" does not draw me in, but what do I know? Comments appreciated.

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Sarasota Ballet has become the foremost company for performing a wide variety of Ashton in the US – including many that are rarely performed any more. Director Ian Webb and Assistant Director Margaret Barbieri are Ashton devotees, both having danced for Ashton. They held a remarkable four-day Ashton festival in May of 2014 during which they presented about 7 or 8 major Ashton works (including all mentioned here), as well as several divertissement. Attendees came from far and wide, many from Europe. I thoroughly enjoyed the broad exposure to Ashton, and all of the the pieces being brought to the Joyce were top notch.

Here’s a review of the ‘A Knight of the British Ballet’ performance in Sarasota from a few years ago. It also included Ashton’s “Monotones 1&2”, so that might also be on the Joyce program.

Sarasota Review 2012

And here are links to Alastair Macaulay’s reviews of the festival; they mention each of the works that will be presented in NY. (He is rather a fan of Sarasota.)

Ashton Festival May 1, 2014

Ashton Festival May 5, 2014

All excellent and off-the-beaten path ballets, and quite diverse! As to whether or not one should trade it for one’s vacation, I guess that depends...

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Was there on Wednesday. I had so looked forward to this, so I have to report is was a bit of a let down. That said, I was glad to see this company and also the works they presented. If only for an archival purpose. Evening got off with" Valses Nobles and Sentimentales," which for me looked a bit fussy and cramped. The costumes were overpowering to the work and denied us the ability to see some of the details of the choreography. Perhaps if performed on a larger stage than that of the Joyce the dancers could have moved out a bit more. But in the end, it all looked a tad stuffy and certainly old fashioned. Hard to tell about the technical ability of the dancers, as much was obscured by the fussiness of the decor and costumes. Next up was a foursome of short works from different eras in Ashton's career. "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" was cute and blessedly short. " Walk to the Paradise Garden" was a bit of a stretch for passionate dancing, and seemed to be a bit of a "take" on both Macmillan's "R&J" and "Manon". "Jazz Calendar" seemed also to be dated in most respects. Some of the so called jazzy moves of early jazz classes I attended in NYC in the 60s were just weird. I cannot imagine Sibley and Nureyev who originated these roles bringing much to this work. Last in this group was Sinfonietta/Second Movement. With clear echoes of his more interesting "Monotones" Ashton made floating in space seem a bit of a chore. For me the best and most interesting work of the evening was the final, "Facade". Originally done in 1931 for the Camargo Society, it at least had a bit of fun and humor in it. Dancers all looked fine in this work. Bright and interesting choreography brought the evening to a close. All in all, as I said, glad to see the company, but also disappointed that what we saw was not better presented and danced. Few, if any, of the dancers stood out in any regard. Most, especially the men, seemed competent, but that's all. I guess looking back at our dance history has it's place. I was startled to see how ordinary these works all seemed, especially as we are more used to seeing Ashton at his best with "The Dream", "Cinderella", "La Fille", "Symphonic Variations", etc. As my seat mate said at one of the intervals, "well, it saved me a trip to Florida".

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Evening got off with" Valses Nobles and Sentimentales," which for me looked a bit fussy and cramped. The costumes were overpowering to the work and denied us the ability to see some of the details of the choreography. Perhaps if performed on a larger stage than that of the Joyce the dancers could have moved out a bit more.

I was there Wednesday as well. The Joyce has the unfortunate effect of making certain flavors of choreography look dinky, and I think "Valse Nobles and Sentimentales"—or at least this particular production of it—is a prime example. (The pas de deux from Balanchine's "Diamonds," presented at the Joyce by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet a few years ago, is another.) I don't know if it's the low proscenium or the relative shallowness and steepness of the auditorium itself, but I think it's more than just the tight confines of the stage—something there wrecks works with a particular sort of "perfume." Some works look absolutely splendid there, though. For whatever reason, the Trocks manage to make everything they perform at the Joyce look big as life and twice as natural, but theirs is a carefully and cannily crafted theatricality.

I actually found the Sarasota men more interesting and individual than the women.

PS: I would actually like to see the Trocks perform "Valse Nobles and Sentimentales." All joking aside (and I'm not exactly joking about the Trocks) I saw a lot in the ballet that I liked and I liked a lot of what Sarasota's dancers were doing with it, but I'd like to see them do it in a better theater with better costumes and sets, and, of course, live music.

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 I do not think that Valses Nobles would benefit from having new designs. So far every attempt to redesign  Ashton's ballets has proved to be a complete and unmitigated disaster. Rather than refreshing them the redesigns have left the redesigned ballets in a state far worse than they were with the original designs. Problems with Ashton ballets in performance rarely have anything to do with the costumes and design. Generally the problem is either the dancers's inability or unwillingness to dance in the appropriate style, which is unlikely with the Sarasota company, or, as a member of the audience, looking for things in his works which you are accustomed to see in the works of other choreographers and not looking at what he is actually doing. Ashton's choreography uses the dancer's body not just their legs.The dancers should have a pliant, fluid upper body as well as clean,bright, fast footwork. It is about a flow of movement and enchainements rather than a series of staccato steps.

As far as the designs of Valses Noble are concerned Sophie Fedorovitch was the designer for several of Ashton's ballets and would have been fully aware of the effect that Ashton wanted his ballet to create in performance as far as mood and movement are concerned. I understand that she sat in on rehearsals of some of his ballets, and would revise her designs in the light of what she had seen. She clearly produced designs which satisfied Ashton on the page and on stage when they were seen in movement in performance. She was meticulous as far as her choice of fabric and the cut of her costumes were concerned and certainly would have have known whether or not her costumes were intended to enhance the theatrical impact of the dancing by enhancing the dancers's move.

As far the performances at the Joyce are concerned it could be that you saw the wrong cast or part cast. In some of the ballets on show, the company is fielding three casts for some roles. People who know what Ashton's ballets should look like in performance were pretty impressed by the company's revival of Valses Nobles in 2014 so it does not sound as if it is the choreography or the designs which are the problem.. The individuals concerned had no need to be complimentary about the company if it was not deserving of praise. The reviews that I read at the time did not read as if they were being used as a stick to beat the Royal Ballet which appears only to revive Ashton's works out of a sense of duty rather than with any sense of enthusiasm or regard for the man and his works.

As far as the rest of the programme is concerned David Vaughan described The Walk to the Paradise Garden as a masterpiece. It requires a master in partnering to bring it off but again in  Ashton's  ballets the audience should be oblivious to the difficulties it presents for the two main dancers. It should be swept along by its emotional response to the ballet and the ballet's beauty. You can play the game of spot the source material if you wish to, but it is what he does with the source material that really matters.

The only one of the ballets on show that I have not seen is Sinfonietta which was made for the Touring Company. I suspect that its disappearance from the repertory had little to do with its quality and everything to do with the fact that the company for which it was created  was disbanded in a cost saving exercise undertaken  to make the Royal Opera House's books balance. It would be wonderful to think that the current Royal Ballet management team would expend as much effort on staging Ashton's  ballets as the Webbs do but apparently the latest McGregor is far more artistically significant than having  an active Ashton repertory with ballets ranging from Capriol suite to Rhapsody.




Edited by Ashton Fan
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2 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

 I do not think that Valses Nobles would benefit from having new designs. So far every attempt to redesign  Ashton's ballets has proved to be a complete and unmitigated disaster. Rather than refreshing them the redesigns have left the redesigned ballets in a state far worse than they were with the original designs.

As far the performances at the Joyce are concerned it could be that you saw the wrong cast or part cast. In some of the ballets on show, the company is fielding three casts for some roles. People who know what Ashton's ballets should look like in performance were pretty impressed by the company's revival of Valses Nobles in 2014 so it does not sound as if it is the choreography or the designs which are the problem.



If not new designs, then perhaps better-executed versions of the originals. It is both a blessing and a curse that one can see EVERYTHING at the Joyce, including less than ideal production elements. By way of an example specific to Valse Nobles: the women's long white gloves were ill-fitting, which to my eye shouted "second-tier" even though I found the dancers very respectable, both as dancers qua dancers and as ambassadors of a specific style. (I'm no Ashton expert, but it seemed clear to me that the dancers were being particularly attentive to his way of using the upper body.)

I agree that honoring a ballet's original production designs has its merits, but surely we don't need to freeze ballets in amber to be true to them. I liked Valse Nobles just fine. Yes, it looks its age, but so does a lot of Balanchine, frankly. (Heck, so does a lot of art in general.) That being said, to my eye Sarasota's production didn't translate well to the Joyce: it looked fussy and airless there, and that rubbed off on the performance as a whole, despite the choreography and the dancers' evident commitment to it. 



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Given the number of abstract and near abstract ballets that are created and the number of ballets in which the dancers are dressed in the current standard ballet uniform it is easy to lose sight of the impact that stage design can have on what we see in performance and how we respond to it. Only a limited number of stage designers ever get the opportunity to design for ballet and even fewer have the experience of designing for narrative works. Ashton belonged to the generation of choreographers who experienced the choreographic and  design revolution of the Ballets Russes as it was happening. The designers who he commissioned to design his ballets had, for the main part, also had that experience.

Now in theory redesigning a ballet should have as little adverse impact on the choreographer's work as mounting a new production of an opera has on the composer's work. Indeed I believe that the push to redesign some of Ashton's ballets came from people who had far greater involvement in, and knowledge of opera than they did of ballet.  So have any of the Ashton redesigns given his ballets a new lease of life? Here is what happened to three of his works.  I shall begin with Daphnis and Chloe.

The man who redesigned Daphnis and Chloe transformed it from a ballet giving the ancient story a contemporary setting with the old gods present in the modern,ever ancient Greek landscape as genii loci, to one set fairly and squarely in ancient Greece. My recollection of the new designs is that there was no hint at the Greek landscape and of course the dancers were dressed in archaic costumes. The new designs had the effect of reducing the impact of the choreography. The movements of the female corps and of Chloe herself were less expansive than they had been in the original designs,  their costumes constrained their movement rather than amplifying it. This meant that in the opening section the audience was unable to savour the contrast between the male and female corps when they dance the same steps in unison and it destroyed the almost Bacchic swirl of movement  at the end of the piece as the dancers rush across the stage and then turn and jump, reducing it to a very staid affair. The costume designs also failed to tell the audience anything about the character of Daphnis, Chloe. Dorkon or Lykanion. Now this does not matter with Daphnis or Chloe as the ballet is their story, but it does as far as Dorkon and Lykanion are concerned because they play small but pivotal roles in the action of the ballet.The effect of the redesigns was to kill the ballet.A similar fate befell Cranko's The Lady and the Fool which was done to death by a totally unnecessary redesign which had the effect of sucking the life out of it. Its new look deprived it of its charm and reduced the impact of the choreography. It left an audience who knew the work wondering why they had liked it so much.

Then there was Les Rendezvous. Here the designer ignored the original setting of a park with a wall and gate which left a large area of the stage, where the wall should have been, empty. The new design had a backcloth with a tree which looked as if it new had escaped from a painting by Cirico The lack of a wall reduced the impact of the dancers'entrances as before the redesign they had entered the stage through the gate.As far as the costumes were concerned he chose 1950's dresses with polka dots for the women, gave the girls in the pas de quatre long  pink gloves which looked like washing up gloves and dressed the men in 1920's style  blazers and boaters. It certainly had a transformative effect  on the ballet which is danced to music by Auber but not one that did anything for the ballet. Where the Chappell designs were at one with the music and created a mood which supported the choreography the redesigns pulled against the music and seemed to be little more than a random collection of visual effects. If the designer  created a mood it was one of confusion. The  new designs managed to make a nonsense of the ballet which they were supposed to enhance and revivify.

Finally there is Cinderella  which has had three redesigns since its premier. I have only seen photographs of some of the original designs so I have no idea what they were like in performance.I  believe that they were disliked because they were not sufficiently like ballet costumes.The first redesign can be seen on the film of the ballet with Fonteyn and Somes in the cast, the second on the DVD with Sibley and Dowell. It seems to me that each redesign has given Cinderella prettier rags than the last and provided the Ugly Sisters with increasingly outrageous costumes. The most recent redesign, the first not to be authorised by the choreographer gives Cinderella the prettiest imaginable rags and dresses the Ugly Sisters in costumes that would be regarded as almost too outrageous for a traditional pantomime.The redesigns commissioned by Wendy Ellis are pretty disastrous. They have not destroyed the ballet but they have emphasised and perhaps encouraged a performance style which gives the audience a ballet somewhat different from the one which Ashton created. A sweet Cinderella,dressed in pretty rags and danced in a very charming, small scale manner, a Jester who is performed like a close relative of the Soviet ones,not a character with a soul whose facial expression you need to see,but a mere leg machine and  a pair of Ugly Sisters who would be too broad,brash and vulgar for most provincial pantomimes.

The people employed to redesign Ashton's one act ballets and those commissioning them, it seems to me, have shown a singular .lack of understanding of ballet design in general and of the particular ballets for which the designs were commissioned. It is probably why any rumour of a proposed ballet redesign, but particularly those by Ashton are met with horrified shudders. Ballet design is important It can create a mood. It can tell an audience when and where the action of a ballet is set. Good ballet design helps the dancers in performance. It remains a mystery why the importance of ballet design is not as well understood as it should be. It seems to me that it is not lack of opportunity but a lack of sensibility on the part of those commissioning the designers which is at the heart of the problem.If you are not aware of the essential elements of the relationship between choreography and its performance by dancers in costume as seen by the audience then you are going to make some very big mistakes. Choreographers like Ashton and Cranko were fully aware of the impact design had on the reception of their works, Somewhere along the way this understanding has been lost. A ballet like Swan Lake can survive bad designs. The length of time that Dowell's, bling laden, concept driven, ineptly designed production held the stage proves that but that does not mean that every ballet can survive such treatment.


Edited by Ashton Fan
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Well, perhaps I didn't see the "first casts" in any of these ballets, but if a company is going to present themselves as an "authority" on Ashton's works, then it is my feeling that ALL casts should be equally as capable in all regards.  Poor partnering, lack of musical response, ill fitting costumes in some instances, on and on.  I stand by my response to this company as a huge disappointment.

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I realize this is the NY performance place but this is, in a way, an addition to NY.  I happened to be in Bar Harbor Maine when the company was at the Joyce, but to my delight they made an appearance at the Criterion Theater in Bar Harbor the evening before I left.  1 word about the theater - a 1932 art deco gem which was closed for many years has been taken over by a not-for-profit group, restored and reopened.  Bravo.


At the ballet, my husband and I introduced ourselves to company director Iain Webb.  He was absolutely friendly, informative and clearly the kind of director dancers love.


This was not an easy show for the dancers.  The stage is VERY small, and VERY, VERY shallow.  The stage also has a small rake.  A dancer was injured that day causing a lot of cast changes.  Never-the-less the company delivered in a delightful way.  


Stars and Stripes Pas & Coda was done by Kate Honea and Ed Gonzalez with style and verve despite dancing on a postage stamp.  My main criticism is the plastered smile on Kate Honea's face.  


I was surprised a bit by Ashton's The Walk to Paradise Garden because some of the lifts seemed more MacMillan like to me.  Danielle Brown was lovely.  The use of her arms, head and torso fluid and musical.  Ricardo Rhodes (I believe.  The changes in cast were announced so quickly I may have gotten some things wrong) is an excellent partner.


Elite Syncopations - Alaskan Rag by MacMillian great fun.  Playful, wonderful timing - a taste of the music hall danced by Amy Wood and Logan Learned (I think)


The Dragonfly - Mr. Webb mentioned that this was staged by dancer memory and when a film of Pavlova turned up, the staging was amazingly accurate.  Victoria Hulland's use of the wings, her head movements and lightness brought this piece to life.


The American - Pas de deus - Wheeldon.  For me not Wheeldon at his best but of course well structured.  Ryogo Sadoshimo showed a lyricism and ability to connect to her partner that touched me.


Sonata In Four Movements - Choreography Richardo Graziano, Music by John Knowles Paine.  This was a premier.  I was disappointed in the piece because I didn't think it showed the dancers off at their best.  The women seemed in between steps too much of the time and one of the men struggled technically.  


The Bar Harbor audience was thrilled and responded enthusiastically to each piece.  I had a lovely evening and was delighted to have seen the company.  These dancers are refreshing and likable and even when things were not perfect I could see what they were going for.   This will be a great company and IMO it won't take very long.   

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