This week’s stunning Sarasota Ballet production, the first of the season, was quite remarkable and seemed to usher in a new level of performance by the already accomplished company. At the beginning of the evening, Iain Webb, Director, came on stage to report the good news that the Ballet is in the black and is off to a great start this season. He then showed us a recorded interview he conducted with a former dancer, Wendy Ellis Soames, who staged and owns the rights to the first piece they performed, “Symphonic Variations” by Sir Frederick Ashton. Soames stated that the first performance of the piece was met with great adulation and was deemed a “revelation.” Webb also remarked that the Company is in “full bloom,” now in his fifth year in Sarasota; and I must agree on both counts.
Although I missed well-known principal Octavio Martin, some of the recently promoted principals have reached a new level of maturity; and this season promises to be one of the best. I was particularly excited about the performance of Ricardo Rhodes, who has always done a lovely job, but was simultaneously restrained and powerful in “Symphonic Variations.” He, along with another of my favorites, Danielle Brown, were the stand-outs for me in this elegant and unassuming piece meant to celebrate great dancing and the end of Ashton’s war service.
Admittedly, I have no idea what war service would feel like, I can imagine what one might experience upon returning home and the purity of the piece seemed to symbolize a new beginning for war-torn Europe. The program described the piece as a “shining example of ‘less is more,'” and I was struck by that as I watched the dancers effortlessly perform this challenging piece. They kept their performances stripped down and simple, and I was mesmerized by their footwork.
The second piece of the evening, “There Where She Loved” was filled with passion, and the dancers’ raw emotion in their relationships was palpable. The emotional context was beautifully underscored by the accompaniment of opera singers. Also, noteworthy were the costumes — the women were primarily in whispy seafoam blue and magenta gowns that helped portray their melancholy. Again, I was extremely impressed by Rhodes who captivated the female dancers while seeming to view them as irrelevant.
Last and most significantly, the company attacked one of Paul Taylor’s most important dances, and pulled off this magnificent piece of Americana. A few times, I felt that the music got ahead of the dancers, but mostly I was in awe that these ballet dancers’ skillfully morphed themselves into very skilled modern dancers. I am a new fan of Sara Sardelli, whose swift movements and joyful demeanor make her a pleasure to watch. I also felt that Simon Mumme was fantastic in his solo, “Tico Tico” – he brought so much power to his delightful performance that he almost made me finally drop my association of him with his very convincing role as a Nazi in the Anne Frank ballet the company performed a few years ago. But, I want to especially note the nuanced performance of Logan Learned, newly promoted to principal, but already major fan favorite, in the pinnacle part of the piece, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” He brought his innocence and youthful exuberance to the ill-fated bugle boy, whose ultimate demise turns the tables on what began as a light-hearted comedic piece. This heart-rending moment demonstrates choreographically that war often takes the lives of those who are the most full of life. Finally, Kate Honea’s ease with this piece and the Wheeldon piece before it were truly remarkable and her light seems to shine even a little brighter this year. I loved her performance, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us for the remainder of the season. Bravo Sarasota Ballet!