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As football fans focus on the draft, this week’s Sarasota Ballet performance gave balletomanes a chance to bid some MVPs a fond farewell and to begin to connect to newer recruits who are emerging in the spotlight.
It is no secret that I am a Logan Learned fan as the spritely and spirited dancer has been a mainstay of the company over his decade-long run. He brought down the house with his fast stepping, high flying “Tarantella” nicely paired with his frequent partner Kate Honea. The piece had a wonderful energy and started the evening’s festivities with a bang. When Learned took more than one curtain call, newcomers must have wondered about the hoopla; but I, for one, view Learned as crucial to the fabric of the company and got misty thinking about his departure. Another lady in the front row reassured me, Learned is ready to return home to San Francisco to teach and has been mentoring Ivan Duarte, a new Loganesque dancer who stole the show as Puck in “The Dream” last month.
Next up was “The Leaves are Fading,” a wonderful showcase for the principals and an introduction to some newer faces in the corps de ballet. Victoria Hulland brought subtlety and nuance to the role of the reflective woman reminiscing about her life and her loves in the garden. Katelyn May and Ricardo Rhodes formed the strongest pairing of the piece, and every scene that featured the two was positively riveting. May rounds out each movement with precision and poise, and Rhodes is truly the most generous and careful partner in every pas de deux. “Marguerite and Armand” later in the evening showed that Hulland and Ricardo Graziano may be the most passionate pairing, but May and Rhodes have a quiet grace that should align them as the next important duo for the company to develop.
“Leaves” served as a nice bookend to season opener “The Secret Garden,” which also featured May as Mary opposite Hulland as Mary’s aunt, who died prematurely in the garden prompting her husband to close it and never step foot it in it again. Watching Hulland and May return to the garden in this new context really helped bring the entire fabulous season to a lovely conclusion.
The evening’s surprise was "Bugaku" with its modern, discordant score and somewhat bizarre romance. This was hands-down my favorite performance by Ryoko Sadoshima. She mastered the vocabulary of the Balanchine piece the best of the group, some of whom seemed a bit uncomfortable in the Japanese style of movement. Lucas Erni, who portrayed her intended, did not seem entirely at ease in his role but threw himself gamely into the unusual piece. In a somewhat shocking twist, the couple consummated their marriage in a highly stylized, sterile, yet erotic portion of the piece then quickly returned to the staid wedding party. Although there were some kinks to be worked out with this piece, it was the most exciting and memorable of the night.
The evening concluded with company staple “Marguerite and Armand,” which as mentioned previously is an absolutely gorgeous pairing of two truly beautiful and experienced dancers Hulland and Graziano. The two are magical together and clearly have developed their relationship to make their passion not only believable but epic. I still don’t like the costuming, particularly the wigs and mustaches for the rest of the cast who mostly skulk angrily around the stage. However, the moments between Hulland and Graziano transcend those issues and make this a very important piece for the company.
Finally, both Learned and the lovely Kristianne Kleine, who also chose to retire this year after eight years with the company, were given their due as one by one, the dancers hugged them and gifted them with red roses. The camaraderie of the company that we sense in their performances was on full display as they admiringly paid tribute to their colleagues who, as Artistic Director Iain Webb said, were truly a family. It was nice to go behind the scenes and connect with the dancers a bit more as individuals rather than simply as a company. That is what is so special about the Sarasota Ballet that provides such rich experiences for audiences year after year, and the reason learning about the individual dancers is like my NFL draft.