Ashton and Balanchine – a pair for the ages

Sarasota Ballet knocked it out of the park again with its evening with Ashton and Balanchine. The Sir Frederick Ashton piece, “Enigma Variations,” debuting stateside, captured a classic setting in the late 19th century with some of the most elegant performances we have seen all season.

“Enigma Variations” is about the backstory of the piece’s composer, Edward Elgar, who, following the success of this piece, was knighted and named the Master of the King’s Music. In this charming family tableau each variation in the music represents one of Elgar’s wife and friends. Especially noteworthy was the early entrance of a corps dancer as Robert Baxter Townsend who turned tricycling into a dance, and the always-fabulous Logan Learned as George Robertson Sinclair, whose leaps abounded and irrepressible charm was contagious. Amy Wood as Elgar’s adoring wife was soulful and supportive of her husband and brought a great deal of depth to her character. Danielle Brown as Lady Mary Lygon, seemingly Elgar’s lost love, appeared like a diaphanous angel so light and free in her captivating performance. Also enchanting was Nicole Padilla, Dora Penny, a student of Elgar, whose childlike innocence and girlish glee brought joy to a sometimes solemn scene.

We are so fortunate to have a local company with such a strong corps that they are able to tackle huge productions like this one. There is little wonder that the Sarasota Ballet is the only American company permitted to perform Ashton ballets, because they do so with such loving care and reverence for the master’s work that they are the perfect company upon whom to bestow this honor.

As much as I loved “Enigma Variations,” I was in awe of the crowd-pleasing patriotic “Stars and Stripes.” With all of its faults, especially on display in a Presidential election year, a performance like “Stars and Stripes” makes you fall in love with the United States all over again. You cannot help but be swept up in the beautiful chorus of girls who are filled with gusto and warmth, and the cast of men leapt to great heights led by the amiable and talented Alex Harrison.

Ricardo Graziano and Elizabeth Sykes were an equal partnership, each taking turns performing at a high degree of difficulty. Graziano is truly a wonder on stage and the Brazilian principal dancer and resident choreographer embraced the most American of all dances with ease and grace.

I could watch both of these pieces over and over again and marvel at the wonders of each, but “Stars and Stripes” will hold a special place in my heart as a masterful combination of everything that makes our country such a special place – the talent and heart of its people. Anytime the Sarasota Ballet stages either of these two pieces again, it would be wise to put the performance on your agenda. The last show of the season is Wheeldon and Ashton, April 29-30th at the Sarasota Opera House.

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