Sarasota Ballet + Sarasota Orchestra = grand success!

Following last week’s lovely performance of La Fille mal Gardée by the Sarasota Ballet, I am more convinced than ever that arts organizations must collaborate in order to continue to enthrall 21st century audiences. La Fille was a beautiful integration of theatricality, lavish scenery and costumes, and most importantly, live music performed by the Sarasota Orchestra. The dancers, particularly darling Kate Honea, dashing and gravity-defying Ricardo Graziano and consistent scene-stealer Logan Learned warmed the audience’s heart. You could feel the energy in the crowd and I overheard many cooing over how charming the production was.I loved that the leads were able to tell their story so clearly with facial expressions, gestures and movement that I didn’t need to read the plot to follow the full-length ballet. The sumptuous set, the brood of dancing chickens, the huge company of friends and peasants and the live pony made the production feel lavish for a smaller community production. But the true highlight was the music filling the Van Wezel’s large auditorium. It felt like a cocoon surrounding the audience and the dancers in a warm glow. Why on earth don’t dance companies and orchestras perform together all the time? Without the accompaniment of live musicians, even during even some of the most significant dance performances I have seen, the dancing seems naked and bare on stage by comparison.

At last week’s Creative Conversation about contemporary art in America, sponsored by the Hermitage Artist Retreat in connection of the award of the Greenfield Prize (see my accompanying post), the speakers lamented the demise of major orchestras and wondered what the future, if any, would be for such organizations. I wanted to exclaim, “Get them to perform with our dance and theater companies!” It seemed a rather simple point, but the writing is on the wall. We need expanded cross-disciplinary collaboration to feed an ever-more sophisticated audience.

The Sarasota Ballet and the Sarasota Orchestra wisely chose to perform together (with much-needed funding) for a variety of performances this season, but this was for me the most remarkable, perhaps because of the addition of the delightful conductor Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director of the American Ballet Theatre. I found my gaze frequently on him as he led the orchestra in this rousing performance.

Other highlights were the intricate dances performed using ribbons. First Honea, as the wayward daughter, danced with a pink ribbon alone, then she was joined by Graziano in a stunning duet concluding brilliantly in a cat’s-cradle arrangement. Later much of the company danced around a maypole creating a complex braided design, which they then unfurled with an equal amount of grace. Furthermore, the comic timing of all the performers was impeccable, and the chance to laugh at what can often be a more staid art form was a welcome change.

The ballet was performed in three acts and I would have preferred a slightly shorter evening, because it is difficult for both the dancers and the audience to keep the energy high when you close in on a three-hour mark. However, I thought the entire production was a pleasure to behold. Bravo once again, Sarasota Ballet!  There is one performance left this season: Theatre of Dreams, running May 3 – 5. Go to for tickets.

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