Nearly every time I see the Sarasota Ballet these days, I think to myself, they have reached an entirely different level and they have outdone themselves! In fact, this weekend’s performance of the powerful line up of choreographers Ashton, Graziano, and Tuckett was transcendent; and there are three remaining shows (tonight, tomorrow afternoon, and tomorrow night).
I was eagerly anticipating “Changing Light” by Will Tuckett, which I first saw in 2013, my favorite piece ever performed by the company. “Changing Light” was commissioned by Artistic Director Iain Webb for the Sarasota Ballet and was inspired by what Tuckett called “one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen, the Sarasota sunset.” This place-based piece is an ideal way to highlight the specificity of the talents of this tremendous company who all live and work in Sarasota.
I realized during the performance this time that although our community is blessed with a multitude of traveling artists who seem drawn to perform and create in this special place, the Sarasota Ballet is uniquely our hometown “team.” Never a sports fan but rather a lifelong dance enthusiast, I root for the Sarasota Ballet, which in its tenth year with Iain Webb at the helm, is on a winning streak. “Changing Light,” inspired by the beauty of Sarasota itself, is truly the finest showcase of everything there is to love about our local dance company. Much as the Alvin Ailey dance company performs its signature “Revelations” (which I have seen numerous times), “Changing Light” could be the Sarasota Ballet’s “Revelations,” which celebrates not only the company, but also the place we call home. I could easily watch this piece over and over again.
Yet “Changing Light” was only one part of the incredible line-up. The evening opener, “Valses nobles et sentimentales” was like a childhood dream – a gorgeous pink and red confection- a veritable pop-up valentine on stage. This was one of my favorite performances by Danielle Brown – who seemed born for her leading role in this piece – flying across the stage as light as air – partnered perfectly by Ricardo Rhodes. Another standout of this dazzling romantic Sir Frederick Ashton piece was Logan Learned, whose slight knowing smile combined with his absolute precision on stage, was a joy to watch. Learned was airborne for much of his time on stage framed by the delicate coterie of female dancers. This dazzling piece in the hands of a less capable corps of dancers could easily veer into a sugary overload; but the company pulled it off to great effect. This was an ideal pre-Valentine’s day number setting the mood for romance and joy.
Principal dancer Ricardo Graziano choreographs hit after hit for the Sarasota Ballet, including the captivating “In a State of Weightlessness” that delighted audiences at the gala performance, and this weekend’s “Before Night Falls” first performed in February 2014 when we were finishing up our travels in the United Kingdom. Friday night was my first experience with “Before Night Falls,” which the program calls a contemporary piece on pointe. I am finding that this is an absolutely glorious combination. Although ballet was my first love, in college and beyond, I began focusing exclusively on modern dance until moving to Sarasota. In recent years, the Sarasota Ballet has been mastering contemporary ballet balanced with classical pieces. This weekend, the company switched gears with jaw-dropping speed during a quick intermission from a classical romantic ballet piece to a raw emotional contemporary piece, highlighting the grittier and steamier parts of romantic encounters. The lithe and powerful cast gave a muscular performance rivaling some of the greatest contemporary companies of our time.
This quote from Graziano regarding his piece is a wonderful sentiment for our times: “We should take advantage of every moment, living to the fullest, loving to the fullest and dancing to the fullest. We never know what the future holds.”
If the future holds for you the chance to see this performance, you are lucky indeed! www.sarasotaballet.org.