The Sarasota Ballet is performing at optimal strength with its latest production “Symphonic Tales” – catapulting the company into ever more rarefied air in the dance world with three world-class pieces. “Symphonic Tales” featured two stunning ballets by George Balanchine as well as the groundbreaking “Las Hermanas” choreographed by Sir Kenneth Macmillan.
The Sarasota Orchestra accompanied the dancers with Orsmby Wilkins, the superb guest conductor, who serves as the Music Director of American Ballet Theatre. Additionally, international ballet superstar Marcelo Gomes, principal guest artist for the past three seasons, made a brief but unforgettable appearance in the ominous role of “the man” in “Las Hermanas.”
“Theme and Variations” was an elegant piece in the Russian ballet tradition featuring two seasoned principals Kate Honea and Ricardo Rhodes dancing at the top of their game. Additionally, the rest of the company complemented the principals with precision and grace. “Theme and Variations” is something I could watch on an endless loop and find myself firmly planted in my “happy place.”
The company then shifted gears entirely with “Las Hermanas.” MacMillan choreographed this mature theatrical piece requiring the dancers to dig deeply into their emotional core to enable them to reside in the achingly repressed home of Bernanda Alba. The elderly Spanish widow has forced her five daughters into suspended mourning. The piece is based on a play by poet and playwright Federico Garcia-Lorca, which was officially banned in Spain and later censored, because of its dramatic themes of oppression and tyranny.
Victoria Hulland plays the cruel mother whose dramatic entry was accompanied only by the sound of her cane hitting the steps as she slowly creeped down to the floor below. The Eldest Sister was portrayed by Danielle Brown, who never allowed her over-wrought and tragic character to veer into camp. She suffered abuse at the hands of Gomes’s alternately creepy and charismatic “Man” who arrives at the home intent to marry her to inherit her fortune. The sisters, flit, in gorgeous miniature movements, around the foyer and back to their rocking chairs trapped within the confines of their pressure filled home. Katelyn May as The Jealous Sister turned in yet another fantastic performance seeming to attempt to break free of her confines through her angular lines and extensions.
Once again this season, Gomes teamed beautifully with Ellen Overstreet, as the Youngest Sister. Their pas de deux breathes life into the stifled home. There is a doomed romance blooming between the two; and their chemistry is palpable. This tragic piece is appropriate for adults only; but it was wonderful to see the company give such a high concept and fully realized performance in the middle of two light crowd-pleasers.
Which leads to “Western Symphony,” a celebratory dance, an ode to Balanchine’s love for his adopted home. Surprisingly, the choreographer had a soft-spot for Westerns – an unexpected province of such an acclaimed traditional artist. He apparently once told his biographer that his favorite thing about the United States was “Coyboys! Westerns! The people are right for it.”
The Sarasota Ballet punctuated the intricate choreography with moments of pure joy and playfulness. Once again May’s virtuosity was on full display particularly in a new pairing with the cheeky and athletic character principal Ricki Bertoni. Overstreet moved quickly from a tragic demise in “Las Hermanas” to an exuberant performance in the Rondo portion of the piece where she was paired with Luke Schaufuss, who proved he was no one-hit-wonder, with yet another spectacular performance as a fun-loving cowboy spending much of his time airborne as he leapt across the stage with ease.
It is a rare treat to see an evening-length performance where all three pieces were equally captivating. We have much more excitement in store this season with highlights including choreography by Paul Taylor and Dominic Walsh as well as the feature-length production of “Romeo and Juliet.”