The Sarasota Ballet 30th anniversary final show was a celebratory way to close the end of a most unusual season. When the Digital Program One kicked off in 2020, we had no idea when or if we would be returning to live theater. Every moment of culture that I could cling to felt special and rare; and I was thrilled to see that the Sarasota Ballet had come up with a clever way to keep dance alive in such a bleak period in our collective history. With vaccination rates up and COVID cases rapidly declining, the day we can experience the Sarasota Ballet in the theater is well within reach. So, Digital Program 7 had an exceptional feeling of reverie and exhilaration as we prepare for re-entry into what may just be our generation’s roaring 20s.
As simply divine as both Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Birthday Offering” and “Nine Sinatra Songs” were, Digital Program 7 was like a charming amuse bouche to delight the senses in anticipation of a full course menu – beginning later this year. Iain Webb, Artistic Director, began the event by paying tribute to the digital viewers around the world and invited all of the Company’s new fans to visit sunny Sarasota. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if we got some globetrotting balletomanes arriving on our shores to check out our hometown company. Webb also mentioned that every dancer in the company had the chance to perform in at least one of either the digital offerings or the three Terrace outdoor productions staged more recently. I hope the tradition of live outdoor theater will continue long after the pandemic.
“Birthday Offering” was such an elegant feast for the eyes with seven exquisite pairings, led by Ricardo Graziano and Victoria Hulland, who was positively radiant having returned from maternity leave last season. This piece was a real opportunity to highlight the female dancers, as the piece was originally placed on some of the most renowned principal ballerinas of the Royal Ballet, including Dame Margot Fontaine. I’m always happy to have an Elizabeth Sykes sighting, and I haven’t seen her showcased as much this season. She’s such a pro at bringing the audience into the piece with her quick, athletic style and engaging smile. Ellen Overstreet’s long, elegant lines and graceful air is always a pleasure to watch, and Katelyn May never disappoints with her technical precision and elegant performances.
I’m a big Twyla Tharp fan and who doesn’t love the repertoire of old blue eyes, so I have been eagerly anticipating “Nine Sinatra Songs” all season. These are two American classics that are perfectly paired – Tharp and Sinatra – in this beautiful, life affirming piece. This has been a rough year, and as Sinatra said, “that’s life,” or what Jon Kabat-Zinn has referred to more recently as “full catastrophe living.” We’ve all been “flat on our face” trying to figure out how to manage this pandemic and yet there has been something so therapeutic about the whole world experiencing something so life-changing all at once. So, now it’s time “to pick (ourselves) up and get back in the race.” I always enjoy when Ricardo Rhodes and Danielle Brown perform a duet, and they gave a classy performance of “That’s Life,” reminding us of all that is bright and wonderful in the world. A break-out star of this piece was Marijana Dominis, who was promoted to soloist this season, in “Make it One for My Baby,” who was paired with seasoned performer Graziano. Dominis had so much musicality in her movement and the two gave a sultry performance that was alluring and magnificent. Ricki Bertoni got to demonstrate his character actor chops throwing himself into “Somethin’ Stupid” in what seemed to be an homage to Charlie Chaplin. He was light on his feet, heavy in his heart, and endless fun to watch.
We heard a reprise to “My Way,” as the couples circled one another in Sarasota’s most elegant roundabout. And, in the end, the Digital Season proved Sarasota Ballet did it their way and pulled off an amazing feat by simultaneously providing thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, making our screens come alive with joy and beauty while also making us long to see everyone in person again.