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Report on Sarasota Ballet's "Jewels"


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Last month my wife and I drove down from Atlanta and saw our first two performances of the Sarasota Ballet, which were of the Balanchine/Ashton/Tudor program. The highlight was Balanchine’s Apollo, danced on opening night with Ricardo Rhodes in the lead male role. It was done excellently and beautifully, and Rhodes’s elegance really impressed us.  The Ashton Sinfonietta was quite good, quite energetic with very colorful costumes. The middle movement, which is slow and very interesting, and involves a sole female dancer being carried aloft and moved around by five men, was perhaps not quite as smooth as one might have hoped for. I believe Ellen Overstreet was the female, but the men surrounding her couldn’t quite move her about with the kind of ease that the choreography calls for. The final movement was energetic and fun, and again Rhodes was the standout, kind of pulling the whole movement together through his charisma on stage. The final piece was Tudor’s Gala Performance. This was the least interesting. Although it’s kind of funny in some ways, the dancing is hard to attend to due to all the “silliness.” Of course the music is quite wonderful, as it opens with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto. All the music was live with the Sarasota Orchestra and a live pianist for the piano concerto, which was great. Still, the Tudor was entertaining. The whole evening was worth it if just for the Apollo, and we went back two days later to catch the Sunday matinee. There, Edward Gonzalez danced the main role in Apollo. He didn’t quite have the grace and charisma that Rhodes has. There’s one section where Apollo has to carry two of the muses backwards: Rhodes does this effortlessly and gracefully, whereas Gonzalez did appear to struggle more with the unthankable task of carrying two women, one under each arm. He also didn’t quite do as good as job in the Ashton in holding things together, but he danced quite competently. In general we were very impressed by this ballet company’s performances!

Last night and tonight, we saw the Sarasota Ballet perform Balanchine’s Jewels. I have never seen this ballet live—only the Paris Ballet version on video which only somewhat gave me a sense of what it is about. I understand and appreciate it much more now having seen it live. 

On opening night I sat in the third row. When the curtain went up, the audience gasped at the beauty of the costumes and staging (despite how simple the staging is). The dancers were all arrayed in the most elegant of outfits—and this same reaction happened at the beginning of Rubies and Diamonds. The lighting was magnificent to highlight the beauty on stage. Emeralds was danced remarkably well by Victoria Hulland and Ellen Overstreet, who were partnered by Edward Barnes and Edward Gonzalez respectively. Both of the women danced very well—Hulland with more seriousness and experience, Overstreet with more youth and lightness in her dancing. The trio of Xavier Nunez, Ryoko Sadoshima and Elizabeth Sykes were competent but not as magical. The ending, however, when all three groups come together, was quite remarkable. There is a real sadness in the final movement—of loss, parting, ageing, death—and it really came across. When the three men are left alone and the women have departed and the men make the slow final raking movement with their arms—it was really moving and powerful. You can really see Balanchine’s genius in being able to communicate feeling without a clear story or staging. I love the choreography in Emeralds but think it’s a very difficult piece to pull off successfully, because it is subtle. To me, it talks of relationships, of ageing, of maturity, and finally of parting and loss. They did an excellent job in showing how Balanchine’s genius can convey emotion through movement and music alone, even without other cues.

 The second piece, Rubies, was similarly very good. This movement I feel is easier to appreciate. It’s more dynamic; the dancing is fun and sexy. Here Kate Honea did an excellent job in the main role with Kristianne Kleine very good as the tall girl. Honea was ably paired by Alex Harrison. Again, wonderful costumes that brought audience applause.

Even though the previous two pieces were very good, the final piece, Diamonds, was the best perhaps. Here Danielle Brown and Ricardo Rhodes took the main roles, and their dance together was sublime. Brown managed to convey great emotion through her facial expressions. Her dance was very precise, elegant, measured. Rhodes partnered her wonderfully. He has an elegance and ease about his dancing and a beauty to his lines and jumps that the other male dancers at Sarasota Ballet cannot quite compete with, and you can tell that the audience loves him. There is a kind of expectation they have when he steps on stage that they are going to see something special, and he rarely disappoints. The Tchaikovsky music is so wonderful in this (all the music is great in Jewels) and builds and builds, until the final chord, when the audience broke into great applause, leading to a standing ovation and many calls of “bravo!” All in all a wonderful performance.

Well, to make things better, because my wife got the flu and couldn’t attend that evening, the staff at the ballet very kindly changed her ticket to the following day. Not only that, but when I returned with her, they gave me a free ticket to sit beside her! That is remarkable customer service.

We were a bit concerned that the Saturday matinee would not live up to the opening night’s performance, since the casting is different. But actually, although Emeralds was not quite as solid as the previous night’s, we had nothing to fear. Kate Hone and Kristianne Kleine did an admirable job in Emeralds, but perhaps with not quite the magic that Hulland and Overstreet had managed, and the men were not quite as strong. Rubies, however, with Ricardo Rhodes and Hulland, was a lot of fun, although Amy Wood was not quite as successful in the role of the tall girl as Kleine had been. She actually danced very well but seemed perhaps a bit nervous or tentative in the beginning, and also her physique is more “standard” which I think is perhaps a disadvantage in that role, where it pays to stand out. The standout again, however, was Diamonds, with Overstreet and Gonzalez in the main roles. In the beautiful pas-de-deux of Diamonds, which is so reminiscent of Swan Lake, Overstreet, a junior principal, was simply magnificent and breathtaking. As mentioned, we have seen her perform a few times before, but here she really hit it out of the park. Her expressions were so wonderful, her movements very elegant, gracious, and everything looked easy. She has that litheness that gives the strong impression of youth and innocence, while still maintaining precision. I told my wife before the performance, “I really like this girl – I think she’s got incredible talent and is going to be a great dancer.” Well, she sure showed it. There was fantastic applause for her and the whole Diamonds lot, and again a standing ovation. Director Ian Webb must have been likewise impressed, as he came out during the curtain call with the microphone and announced, holding the hands of Overstreet and Gonzalez, “Meet your new Sarasota Ballet Principle Dancers!”  So what a great way to cap a perfect afternoon, being able to witness the promotion of these very talented dancers. And my admiration for Sarasota Ballet continues to increase! 

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Thanks for the review. I wanted to see how Sarasota Ballet would dance Jewels but getting ready to leave for a weeklong trip I just couldn't see fitting a Sarasota trip in right before leaving. So glad to hear about casting, the promotions, and that they did a great job! I have enjoyed various performances by them and have tickets for the Two Pigeons show later in the season!

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