Plenty of sizzle in an evening with Ashton, Tudor and Walsh

The magnificent Sarasota Ballet company revisited three fan favorites this past weekend. Because we rarely miss a show, I assumed I had already seen all three, but when they began I realized that both Les Rendevous (by Sir Frederick Ashton) and I Napoletani (by Dominic Walsh) were new to me. I remembered loving the middle piece, Lilac Garden (by Anthony Tudor), when I saw it performed in 2008, and the performance more than met my heightened expectations.On a personal note, I have recently returned to ballet after a 25-year hiatus with both “Mommy and Me” ballet classes and my first adult ballet class at the Sarasota Ballet’s downtown rehearsal space this past week. As an amateur I don’t have to worry about bruises on my feet or my body type, so I can just revel in experiencing the beauty of the art form itself as I breeze in and out of them each week. This is the first show I have seen since revisiting ballet class, and it served to enhance my pleasure in watching the performance.

My favorite piece of the evening, Les Rendezvous, was an old-school ballet gem, and the dancers were impeccable in their performance. It was a flurry of white ruffles, pink satin bows and some of the most spectacular lifts I have seen the company do. Ricardo Rhodes leapt from the earth repeatedly, and from our fantastic second-row seats it was positively breathtaking. Additionally the ballerinas, led by the delightfully coy and charming Kate Honea and the always-adorable Sara Sardelli, were light and ethereal in their movement while assisted by their strong partners, including Logan Learned, who turned in three great performances during the evening.

“Lilac Garden” was a psychological piece full of longing, desire and regret. Victoria Hulland, who displayed real acting chops in addition to virtuoso dancing, was Caroline, a lovelorn beauty reunited at her garden engagement party with her dashing former lover, danced by the perfectly-cast Ricardo Graziano. Rounding out the leading roles were “The Man She Must Marry (David Tyaliye) and “An Episode in His Past,” played by Danielle Brown as Tyaliye’s haughty and sophisticated former lover. I found myself a bit frustrated that the quartet never talked through the fact that they each were in love with the other’s partner—nothing a swift group therapy session couldn’t resolve! But the performance was so beautiful, and the dancers, particularly Hulland and Brown, dancing their roles for the second time, truly captured the emotions of this heartbreaking affair. Most touching was when the cast was still in a tableau, and Hulland alone stepped with painstaking care over to Graziano to feel his presence one last time before she married another man.Finally, I Napoletani was gorgeous, if a bit uneven, beginning with the incredible “Stabat Mater,” in which the company performers, men and women, wore gray tutus, portraying what seemed to be an array of beautiful birds. Their careful muscular movements were truly extraordinary. A series of playful dances followed that seemed to feed into stereotypes about Italians: loving pizza, using their hands in boisterous gestures and brazenly flirting. It was fun and light-hearted, and once again Learned stole the show for me in “Guaglione,” as he tried every trick in the book to win Hulland’s heart. Also noteworthy was Graziano’s solo in “O Sole Mio” that completed the evening, but the ending felt abrupt and left me wanting more. Luckily I can get my fix next month with the Sarasota Ballet’s presentation of La Fille mal Gardee (The Wayward Daughter) on April 18 and 19 at the Van Wezel. The performance will be accompanied by the Sarasota Orchestra, and live accompaniment always enhances the performance—so don’t miss it!  For tickets, go to sarasotaballet.org.

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