Perfect Time to Be Grateful for the Sarasota Ballet

It was wonderful to see the Sarasota Ballet dancers back on stage for its second digital program of the season, this time, honoring famed choreographer George Balanchine. The company has managed to skillfully combine protecting the dancers and audiences while maintaining a “show must go on” spirit. Who better to achieve such a delicate balance than ballet dancers? This latest performance showcased quite a large number of company dancers in small arrangements; and it was simply divine.

Watching ballet in the comfort of our own homes is lovely (we were actually still in our pjs). But I miss the grandeur of opening night performances and look forward to the shared experience of live theater when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, Sarasota Ballet has been heroically keeping us on our toes all throughout the pandemic providing Facebook Live classes three days a week while the Sarasota Ballet School was out of session. I lived out my dream of returning to ballet classes without having to coordinate my work and family schedule, proving that there are certain advantages to the digital world.

The company has managed to skillfully combine protecting the dancers and audiences while maintaining a “show must go on” spirit. Who better to achieve such a delicate balance than ballet dancers?

Next up was the charming “Tarantella,” which is familiar to Sarasota audiences. Another Italian classic with a folksy style featuring Kate Honea and Yuki Nonaka who accompanied their performance with tambourines, a rarely featured instrument, putting a fine point on their sharp, precise movements. It was lovely to see Honea, who in many ways, is the heart and soul with the longest tenure of the company. I feel like I know her off stage now that I had the chance to take ballet classes with her both in the studio and her own home while she taught in quarantine. Nonaka, on the other hand, is a new wonderful addition to the company turning in a spectacular star turn in this piece. His radiant smile combined with technical prowess had me cheering loudly from my home. Much as Logan Learned had a swooning group of followers before he retired from the company a few years ago, Nonaka will quickly become a fan favorite. I’ve been watching a lot of digital performances during the pandemic; and Nonaka, together with his able partner, did what few can do – provide the sense of immediacy that is usually reserved for live performances.

Ellen Overstreet and Daniel Pratt in “The Four Temperaments”

But there was still much excitement to come, because Ellen Overstreet, the nymph-like principal dancer, who creates an aura of elegance and grace in every performance, performed in “The Four Temperaments.” What a beautiful pairing with the distinguished Daniel Pratt – I look forward to seeing these two teamed up more frequently in the future. Lauren Ostrander, like Overstreet, moves seamlessly between ballet and modern dance performances and her partner Ivan Spitale is also a very exciting dancer, who we gained in 2018. Finally, Korte, who is coming into her own this season and whose natural charisma is well-suited to the digital stage, turned in a lovely performance with Richard House. This modernist work takes us through the range of emotions of the human experience, which we have all been experienced in such an amplified way as we have remained cloistered in our homes over the past nine months.

One of the greatest casualties of the COVID crisis has been the closure of all theaters, including Broadway; and my beloved New York City has been perhaps hit the hardest during the pandemic. The last piece, “Who Cares” was a gorgeous paean to the great city, set to George Gershwin classics.

(From l to r) Lauren Ostrander, Ricardo Rhodes, Kate Honea, and Janae Korte in “Who Cares?”

Honea and Ricardo Rhodes gave a lilting performance to “The Man of Love” in front of a simple set evoking the New York City skyline. Kortae had a solo to “Stairway to Paradise” and a beautiful duet with Ricardo Graziano. It was such a spectacular way to close out the performance leaving me eager for more.

As an avid fan, I am truly grateful for the courage, grace, and talent of the Sarasota Ballet. They have proved that they are not just “making do” with the digital medium but are using it as an ambitious platform to showcase their tremendous company and to bring a moment of respite and splendor in this unusual era.  

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