Beloved principal dancer Ricardo Graziano, who has been dazzling audiences with his charismatic performances and generous partnering, was honored with a retrospective of his diverse choreography.
Eight years ago, Artistic Director Iain Webb suggested Graziano begin choreographing ballets – a wise move for a dancer of Graziano’s calibre to carry on his legacy. Great performers live on in our memories, yet dancer/choreographers solidify their place in dance history every time their work is performed.
Graziano’s first foray was “Shostakovich Suite,” commissioned and performed in 2011. “Suite” was a grand opener to the 29th season. This elegant confection of delicate partnering showcased the tremendous strength of this year’s company.
The Sarasota Ballet dancers were a sight for sore eyes after a lengthy summer with few opportunities for artistic refuge. Things got off to an elegant start with the entrance of the three female principals, dainty Ryoko Sadoshima, powerhouse Katelyn May, and effervescent Asia Bui, an on-the-rise coryphée dancer, who jumped into a difficult role with ease.
Notably, May, who herself blew audiences away with her debut a few years ago in “Secret Garden,” was partnered by newcomer Luke Schaufuss, a principal who was truly the MVP of the evening. Casting Schaufuss in two major roles choreographed by one of the company’s other great principals was a masterstroke. Surely Graziano has a number of years ahead of him but was felled by an injury recently, so securing a third strong leading man was a coup.
The entrance of Schaufuss, who has arrived on our shores with quite the balletic chops, including performing with one of my favorite companies The Royal Danish Ballet, provides a new and exciting energy for the company, much like the jolt that May provided two years ago.
“En Las Calles de Murcia” featured six couples identified by the color of their costumes. Graziano has created a unique balletic vocabulary, which the entire company adopted with aplomb; and the piece demonstrated the range of his choreographic style. Danielle Brown set the tone with her captivating performance with Richard House as Grey Couple. Lauren Ostrander and Ivan Spitale, who both joined the company last year, proved a spritely team as Brown Couple; and also debuting this year, Marijana Dominis and Mihai Costache, both very expressive performers, were another lovely pairing as Orange Couple.
The pinnacle of the evening was “In a State of Weightlessness.” Graziano’s signature piece reminds me of David Parsons’ famed “Caught,” in which Parsons defies gravity to dramatic effect. Ellen Overstreet led the company with her graceful agility and emotional performance. She was paired with Ricardo Rhodes who can always be counted on as a compassionate partner. When the two shared the stage alone wrapped in darkness, it was shattering and brought me to tears.
During this, my third viewing, “State” made me think of the dystopian dramas that have become mainstays of our current media climate. Most recently, the brilliant “Years and Years” delved deeply into political fractiousness and environmental crises. Similarly, Graziano’s “State” has tremendous emotional resonance and timelessness. The incredibly strong and talented dancers are stripped bare and reveal themselves to the audience so that we can relate to them in a more meaningful way than we expect to in a traditional ballet. “State” ought to be a staple in the company’s oeuvre in the decades to come, particularly when they tour. I urge everyone to experience “State” at least once to see and feel how dance can help us tap into our soul.