“Poetry and Liberty” prove an electric combination for the Sarasota Ballet

Sarasota Ballet combined two key ingredients to the good life for the March performance – “Poetry and Liberty.” Poetry without liberty is heartbreaking; and liberty without poetry results in an unexamined life – together they proved electric. The company turned in a powerhouse evening with two major ballets, Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Apparitions” and George Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes” representing the range of human emotions.

“Apparitions” is an unusual ballet that could easily veer toward camp; but this season Sarasota Ballet has recruited acclaimed dancer Marcelo Gomes as a guest artist. Gomes’s skill as a dancer and performer made his deft treatment of the leading role, the poet, intriguing and exciting. The poet attempts unsuccessfully to write a sonnet celebrating “Love Supreme” and then takes a powerful sleep aid leading to exuberant dreams and troubling nightmares. Gomes then accompanies us on a journey through his subconscious.

Marcelo Gomes and the Sarasota Ballet (photo by Frank Atura)

At first, the poet’s dream is a lovely diversion starting with an elegant ballroom tableau, which was entirely enchanting. The ladies of fashion, especially Christine Windsor and Claire Glavin, were a whirlwind of color and light that made the poet long for true love. But he continually fixates on “the woman in the ball dress” who repeatedly tantalizes him. Next, the masked belfry spirits in black and white feather headdresses formed the stuff of fantasy and surely must have inspired whimsy in our writer’s blocked poet. They retreated leaving the stoic monk and his followers dressed first in bloody red and then purple hooded capes. They filled the scene with dread and horror and even accompanied what appeared to be the corpse of the woman in a ball dress to her burial.

Gomes and the Sarasota Ballet (Photo by Frank Atura)

In the tragic epilogue, the overwrought poet killed himself leaving his sonnet unfinished and his desires tragically unsatisfied. Gomes is a virtuoso dancer who brought the necessary gravitas to the role.

After the intermission, the mood was lightened considerably with fan favorite “Stars and Stripes.” Balanchine, an immigrant of Russian descent, was so enamored with his adoptive country that he choreographed this salute to the United States set to the music of John Philip Sousa, known as the “American March King.” With this patriotic piece, Balanchine combines the precision and elegance of Russian classical style with the brash and unabashed joy that is baked into the fantasy of the American dream.

Right out of the gate spunky soloist Elizabeth Sykes wowed in the “first campaign” with her simultaneous baton twirling and perfect leg holds. Sykes’s regiment including the graceful trio – Samantha Benoit, Asia Bui, and Ryoko Sadoshima accompanied her.

Elizabeth Sykes and the Sarasota Ballet (photo by Frank Atura)

Katelyn May led the “second campaign” with ebullience one certainly wouldn’t expect on a battlefield. The so-called “rifle regiment” was even more filled with energy than their predecessors; and the excitement among the cast and the audience continued to build. Smaller in stature but seemingly powered by dynamite Ivan Duarte brilliantly led the third regiment, until finally, Liberty Bell, Kate Honea and El Capitan, Ricardo Rhodes had fun with the audience that was clearly loving this tremendous tribute to our nation’s most celebrated symbols. Rhodes has such an authentic and engaging smile when he performs; and he made some of the most technically complicated choreography of the evening appear as simple as if he was merely out for an afternoon stroll.

In the end, the entire company of over forty dancers filled the stage dancing the final campaign capping off a triumphant evening and one couldn’t help but feel grateful for this wonderful place we call home.

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