A night at the theater can occasionally feel more complicated than it’s worth when you have a two-year-old at home, and our Super Bowl night at the ballet was almost one such evening. As we glided into our front-row seats with only a minute or two to spare, I was so relieved when the lights lowered and I could finally relax. But from the moment the curtain rose, excitement overtook me as the beautiful Sarasota Ballet company began pouring onto the stage. In the past year the company has grown to 42 members, and the deep bench has provided Artistic Director Iain Webb with a dazzling array of talent from which to choose.
The first piece, “Birthday Offering,” featured seven female soloists, each in the role of one of the original Sadler’s Wells dancers for whom Sir Frederick Ashton created the piece. Every dancer brought a different character to life, and each part of the piece showcased the strengths of the dancers selected. As much as I adore soloist Danielle Brown, she did have a few moments where she slipped with her able partner, one of my new favorites, Ricardo Rhodes. However, these brief moments only served to remind the viewer of the degree of difficulty with which our local ballet company is constantly challenging itself. The costumes were stunning and reminded me of a gilded music box filled with ballerinas. “Offering” was decadent and marvelous and made me wonder if I prefer the company when they perform classical pieces.
After the lengthy intermission, during which I overheard a few intrepid theatergoers trying to catch a bit of the Super Bowl, I realized that the company has, if it’s possible, truly taken itself to another level (which I feel I declare after every show)! The next piece, “Between Longing and Yearning,” was so demanding and so professional, it reminded me of the work of one of my favorite choreographers, David Parsons, who creates muscular, very physical pieces. I learned later that it was actually choreographed by a relative newcomer, Jamie Carter, one of the company’s coryphée dancers. The maturity of the lines and movement of the dancers in the choreography blew me away. I love watching our local company grow and develop. I feel connected with the dancers themselves because I see them year after year. I have watched Logan Learned begin to shed his sweet boyish charm as he morphs into a major force in the company. Every once in a while I catch a flash of a quick trademark grin, which only serves to make his overall graceful mien more delightful. Also notable in this piece was Ricki Bertoni, who seems like a leaner, meaner dancing machine this year. Their duet felt fresh and yet traditional, particularly in a year when same-sex marriage has stood at the front of national consciousness.
But there was nothing quite like the final piece, “Changing Light,” which was probably the best thing I have ever seen the Sarasota Ballet do.I wish I could watch it over and over again whenever I feel down or melancholy. I was so touched by the incredible optimism and joy in this piece that brought me back to a time before I knew just how tough the world can be. The dancers were alternately dressed in oranges and blues, backed by a blue screen behind them. Apparently (and not surprisingly), choreographer Will Tuckett was inspired by our beautiful sunsets over the Gulf. Although it is an age-old question whether art or nature can lift the spirits more, I have to say that “Changing Light,” accompanied by an amazing score by Jeremy Holland-Smith, truly rivals even one of our most stunning sunsets. I saw their last performance of this piece, and the dancers seemed to revel in it, wanting to sit in the pockets of the piece for as long as they could. If I were a dancer, I would be heartbroken to have to let a piece like that rest at the end of the run. Should I ever again question whether I ought to rally for a night out, I will remember this magical dance performance. Only a few short weeks remain until the next performance—I will be there!
For tickets, vist the Sarasota Ballet’s website at sarasotaballet.org.