Kicking off a Balmy Sarasota Holiday Season with Victorian Winters at the Sarasota Ballet

With “Victorian Winters,” the Sarasota Ballet took the audience on an elegant journey back in time celebrating the grandeur of belle époque choreography.

“Les Patineurs,” choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton to depict a Victorian skating party, was a gorgeous production. Kate Honea and Kaitlyn May were a lovely duo as Blue Girls; and I especially enjoyed watching them tiptoeing on toe gingerly across the “ice.”

We saw “Les Patineurs” a few years ago featuring fan favorite Logan Learned as the Blue Boy. I feared that during this season, the first since Learned retired, his absence might detract from productions. But Sarasota Ballet has it covered – Ivan Duarte has picked up where Learned left off to tremendous effect. Duarte’s remarkable skill and charming personality brought the entire production to a whole new level. A highlight was watching Duarte pirouette seemingly endlessly as the curtain fell and then quickly rose again revealing to a thrilled audience that he had been continuously turning alone on stage. (Side note: I’d love to see Duarte tackle David Parsons signature piece “Caught,” which requires the kind of strength he demonstrated as the Blue Boy in this piece).

Ivan Duarte in “Victorian Winters” (Photo by Frank Atura)

Next up was the slower but still lovely “Enigma Variations,” another period piece, depicting a special moment in the life of composer Edward Elgar, his friends, and family. Each variation was meant to capture the personality of the individual dancing and shone a spotlight on the varied talents of members of the company. Ricardo Graziano was a gracious Elgar, and Victoria Hulland turned in a marvelous performance as Elgar’s wife. Also noteworthy was Amy Wood’s restrained elegance as Lady Mary Lygon. The piece concludes with a striking tableau of pure joy when Elgar receives a telegram informing him that a famed conductor agreed to perform his composition.

Finally, the evening was capped with a stunning production of the jewel in choreographer George Balanchine’s crown “Diamonds.” A few years ago, the company treated Sarasota audiences to a full evening of jewel productions by Balanchine concluding with “Diamonds.” This time, the exciting addition was a leading performance by Marcelo Gomes, Guest Principal and a company favorite. Gomes recently retired from American Ballet Theatre and will be joining the company throughout the season.

Photo by Frank Atura

Although Gomes is a famed soloist, he is equally highly regarded for his expert partnering. Perhaps the most exciting part of the evening was watching Gomes partner Ellen Overstreet, who has blossomed before our eyes season after season, in her finest performance yet. It was hard to take your eyes off Overstreet’s long arms as Gomes moved her gracefully through the air. Gomes had one short and glorious solo but spent most of the evening focused on his wonderful partner who matched his caliber.

“Diamonds” showcased the deep bench that Artistic Director Iain Webb has developed with 34 talented dancers dominating the Van Wezel stage.

The next performance of the season will be “Transcending Movement” January 25-28.

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