The Sarasota Ballet celebrated the start of their Winter-Spring Season by presenting a varied program that represented both the history of ballet, particularly British ballet, and innovative works.
It seems that for the last decade the company’s Artistic Director Iain Webb, former Sadler’s Wells and Royal Ballet dancer, has brought a small but powerful piece of British ballet’s spirit to Florida.
“Transcending Movement”, the name of their fourth program this season, was celebrated at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. Such theatre deserves recognition, as it is an intimate version of a European theatre. The audience seems to love the theatre being the home of the Sarasota Ballet.
The program was composed by three historical ballets:
David Bintley’s “Four Scottish Dances,” Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Meditation from Thäis,” and the revival of Ashton’s “Varii Capricci,” along with a World Premiere of Ricardo Graziano’s (Principal Dancer and Resident Choreographer) “Amorosa.”
The curtain opens with three male dancers in Scottish kilts. The ballet is composed by a short divertissement of pas de deux and finalizes with a fun, energetic coda from six dancers, three men, three women. The audience seemed to enjoy Weslley Carvalho, Ivan Duarte and Filippo Valmorbida’s performance, as they leapt in the air with powerful jumps as the “Four Scottish Dances” started.
The three women (Ellen Overstreet, Asia Bui and Samantha Benoit), young but with high-quality technique, executed the steps cleanly while maintaining charisma that entertained the audience all the way through the end.
The choreography has certainly a vibe from the late 1970s, however, it is still challenging for the dancers as it includes difficult partnering moves and fast-paced in-between steps. The scenography in the production was simple but it set the right mood for the intimate audience to enjoy the piece.
The dancers achieved a high level of performance not only in the partnering but also on those technical difficulties. The group maintained their artistry throughout their time onstage, not making it tiresome of some sort. The audience thanked them with warm applause.
The second piece presented was a beautiful pas de deux by Sir Frederick Ashton, “Meditation from Thäis,” performed by Katelyn May and Ricardo Graziano. The couple’s exotic, attractive costumes shined on the stage as they began performing their delicate steps.
Ricardo Graziano had a difficult part on the pas de deux, as Ashton included extremely difficult lifts only a strong male dancer can achieve. Ms May was delicate, exquisite, and did not let any step slip off her feet.
The recognizable music by Jules Massenet is enjoyed in various ballet classes CDs, however, when seeing it in a piece as graceful as “Meditation from Thäis”, the audience can sense the romanticism and delicateness of the story.
Mr Graziano and Ms May received immense applause for their performance. It did not seem they had a mistake at all, but if they did, it was not noticeable.
The third piece might have been the most awaited. Ricardo Graziano created a contemporary/modern piece that has a romantic, flirty, and elegant vibe. “Amorosa,” as the Sarasota Ballet staff states, is “his first new one-act ballet in over two years.”
The piece is set into an interesting, elegant ball-type stage, with extra theatre wings located at the back of the stage, set in pitch-black lighting. This created a disappearing effect as the dancers came in and out of the stage. The costume design was elegant: carmine red corsets and bell type-skirts for the women, and black, elegant pants and jackets for the men.
The piece moves the five couples in interesting patterns, mixing canon effects and, it continuously asks the dancers for more movement. The women were surprisingly on flat shoes (not pointe shoes), but this does not disrupt the movement in partnering work.
Graziano’s piece included several movements that were challenging with the women’s skirts. However, the company’s male dancers stayed in sync with each other, demonstrating their strength and coordination.
This ballet, as well as “Varii Capricci,” counted with the special participation of former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer and now International Guest Artist Marcelo Gomes.
Right in the middle and having the principal couple role during “Amorosa,” Gomes not only showed his excellence in technique throughout the piece but also his high-level artistry.
Men and women took pieces off their costumes off during the piece, which made it interesting as Men finished shirtless, women only in their corsets. The score by Antonio Vivaldi was extracted from his Cello Concertos, which were a perfect fit for the mood of the choreography.
After alternating in between couples, all-women and all-men sections, the piece ended with a romantic pas de deux by the principal couple, Gomes and Danielle Brown. The cultural audience of Sarasota welcomed this contemporary piece with warm arms just as they did with the rest of the ballets.
Finally, Artistic Director Iain Webb did an incredible job when bringing back Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Varii Capricci,” which was premiered in 1983 for The Royal Ballet (for their Israel tour.) This ballet, comical in all ways, delighted the audience with a good laughing session.
Marcelo Gomes also danced the principal character in this ballet, and when entering with a pair of sunglasses, the audience could not help but smile. The ballet is set in a tropical, flirty, 1950’s world where four corp de ballet couples (which demonstrated excellent footwork and partnership) and a principal couple spend their day interacting with each other on a typical vacation (or holiday) day.
The dancers showed Ashton’s style every moment. Even his “Fred Step” was seen with the principal female dancer, “La Capricciosa,” portrayed by Victoria Hulland. The couple’s “names,” in Italian translation mean “the capricious” and “the stranger,” and both Gomes and Hulland stock to their character faithfully when at the same time maintaining a strong technique.
The four pieces created a unique reaction that will make them come again throughout the season. And as for Artistic Director Iain Webb, they certainly cannot wait to see more of the British repertoire in this small Florida city, making honour to all those historical choreographers that shaped ballet in the UK and now, beyond.