A Triumphant Night Celebrating Three Knights of the British Ballet

Sarasota Ballet – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Less than a month after the corps skillfully handled the varied work of the company’s choreographers in its “Theatre of Dreams” production, the dancers took on the rarely performed work of three knighted British choreographers. All three of the pieces were exquisite works of art worthy of international acclaim performed at the glorious Sarasota Opera house.

As Sarasota matriarch Betty Schoenbaum proclaimed when I saw her at intermission, “Aren’t we lucky to have them here?” referring to the widely beloved Sarasota Ballet. The company, in its 25th year, is steadily outdoing itself earning a reputation far beyond our sandy shores.

Although they often master modern pieces, such as last month’s “Nebulous” by Logan Learned, I am always thrilled when watching the company performing classical ballet pieces such as Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s “Concerto.”

“Concerto” was elegant, and I especially liked the dancers blue costumes against the beautiful Japanese minimalist floor to ceiling blue paintings that served as the backdrop. (It made me eager for the opening of the Ringling’s new Asian wing as a side note.)

Elizabeth Sykes was lovely as always in the first movement. It has been delightful watching her youthful exuberance in earlier pieces like “Rodeo” become a graceful presence such as in this piece. She is just as delightful in person, and even took the time to get to know my daughter at Tea and Tutus with an impromptu lesson in the mezzanine.

I have been a fan of Ellen Overstreet for a while, but my favorite performance of hers was in the second movement, where she was such a standout, reminding me a bit of the great American Ballet Theatre dancer Julie Kent.  Incidentally, ABT’s Ormsby Wilkins conducted the Sarasota Orchestra, again signaling the Sarasota Ballet’s prominence in the ballet world.

Overtreet’s skillful partnering with Edward Gonzalez in the pas de deux was noteworthy, and the pictures they formed onstage were stunning. I found myself silently muttering “beautiful, beautiful” and shaking my head at the tremendous work on stage.

As if things could get any better, “Summertide” by Sir Peter Wright really blew me away. The costumes verged toward disco with the male dancers wearing golden headbands and sporting full body length multicolored unitards emblazoned with gold, but the dancers pulled it off. The dancers leaped across the stage with reckless abandon and seemed to nearly set the stage ablaze in golden glory.

“Summertide” was one of my favorite pieces somewhat reminiscent of Will Tuckett’s “Changing Light,” a highlight from a few seasons ago. As usual, Danielle Brown, who took the stage by storm as the firebird in the dance of the same name several years ago, was strong and powerful surrounded by the men of the company who supported her with aplomb.

Finally the piece de resistance of the evening was the exalted pairing of principals Victoria Hulland and Ricardo Graziano in the first performance of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Marguerite and Armand” in the United States. The piece was originally created for famed dancers Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev. Hulland and Graziano were the perfect romantic leads – he was all dashing grandeur in wooing her and she was a wounded beautiful butterfly – even her coughing fits were elegant. The two captured the romance and sadness of this piece, and I gasped a few times watching them cope with betrayal and loss with expression and movement.

Next up, “The Circus Nutcracker.” We were out of the country the last time this ballet was performed, so we can hardly wait to see it and introduce this classic to our soon-to-be five year old. It will be glorious to see my childhood favorite through her eyes.

For tickets and information, go to https://www.sarasotaballet.org/

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