Sarasota Ballet makes a triumphant return for its 27th season with “The Secret Garden”

The Sarasota Ballet made a triumphant return for its 27th season with the magical production “The Secret Garden” choreographed by Will Tuckett. The ballet was choreographed for the Sarasota Ballet and was first performed three years ago. Time to grow is good for any garden, and this one was more lush and elaborate with the passage of a few seasons. “The Secret Garden,” with its timeless message about the healing powers of nature, seems particularly well suited to the Sarasota Ballet nurtured in a community where nature, art, and health are so deeply entwined.

The cast of “The Secret Garden” (photo by Frank Atura)

In a stunning debut Katelyn May, who just joined the company from the Houston Ballet was perfectly cast as Mary and is already a rising star. As I overheard a patron say, “she dances with her face.” May is masterfully expressive and gave a touching portrayal of Mary not as a spoiled orphan but rather as a young girl seeking the comforts of home and family.

Katelyn May (photo by Frank Atura)

For those unfamiliar with the classic book, Mary is sent to live with her uncle, Mr. Craven (Jamie Carter) after her parents die. The Craven home is dark and mysterious, and Mary soon learns she has an ailing cousin, Colin (Logan Learned) who is confined to his bedroom. Mary is left to her own devices, because she was summoned to the Craven home out of duty and obligation not love. Although she is ordered to stay away from her family by Mrs. Medlock (Kate Honea) who herself seems to have craven desires to control the wealthy, mournful Craven household. Honea is suitably scary as Medlock, and it was nice to see Carter stretch as a seemingly irretrievable widow who is haunted by the loss of his beautiful wife Lillias (Victoria Hulland).

While playing outdoors Mary stumbles upon a kind boy Dickon (Ricardo Graziano). Graziano, who himself has spent the past several years healing from injury, reprises the role he originated. It was a welcome return to see Graziano back on stage, and I found myself picturing Graziano and May paired again in a pas de duet with some of the more complex work that is sure to come later this season. The three leads seemed a bit confined by choreography meant to signify that they were children; but in some ways this worked best for Learned who was able to thrill with his youthful leaps exhibiting the carefree spirit of a child who has made a miraculous recovery.

Katelyn May and Ricardo Graziano (photo by Frank Atura)

The scenes I remember most from the last time we saw “The Secret Garden” were heartbreaking. Mary is visited in two distinct dreams by her parents (Kristianne Kleine and Weslley Carvahlo) waltzing on a ship, in what would be her last memory of them. Kleine and Carvahlo were paired so elegantly during their gauzy dream sequences, and this was still my favorite and most emotional part of “The Secret Garden.” Perhaps because of the skillful acting by Mary, I noticed that when she sees her parents in her second dream she connects more deeply with them – dancing and smiling and is able to let them go; because she has reached a level of maturity as a result of her time at the mansion and in the garden. In fact, the kindly Doctor Fortescue (Daniel Pratt, a corps member I can’t wait to see more of, without the dreadful moustache), advises that all Colin needs is sunshine and the opportunity to play outdoors. Although Fortescue is diagnosing Colin, it turns out the garden is healing for Mary as well, who achieves spiritual and emotional growth following the untimely death of her own parents.

Edward French as the skillful narrator carefully weaves himself in and out of all of the scenes giving us a picture of Mary’s inner dialogue as she transitions from child to young adult.

Much has been made recently about the need for community gardens and the healing power of service. “The Secret Garden,” particularly as danced so beautifully by the Sarasota Ballet, makes that case with charm and ardor. Next up Metropolitan on December 1-2 featuring a world premiere choreographed by Marcelo Gomes.

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