Being back at the beautiful Sarasota Opera House after a two-year hiatus, you could feel the buzz of excitement. A season like no other is picking up the pace now, and it is clear we are all savoring every moment of renewal more than ever before. Even crossing the threshold into the remarkable downtown venue was yet another milestone in our return to “normal.”
I breathed a deep sigh of pure joy when the curtain rose to display the company clad in such beautiful impressionistic costumes awash in gold and blue complemented by a vibrant blue and gold shimmery set design. Throughout the piece, the dancers traveled seamlessly across the wide stage through intricate patterns creating tableaus like a vibrant moving painting.
Danielle Brown and Ricardo Rhodes are such seasoned performers, and their pairing is that of a ballet couple who know and anticipate each other’s movements much as a long-married couple can read each other’s thoughts. I was also so pleased to see Luke Schaufuss, a powerhouse principal, who debuted in the shortened season of 2019, and is ready to burst on the scene now that the company is back live.
There were a couple of slip ups among the men, but they handled it gracefully. The company was dancing at such a high level with technically difficult choreography, so a few missteps were understandable and even strangely life affirming. In our new Zoom-filled days, where we catch glimpses inside each other’s homes and see kids and dogs coming in and out of frames, a little imperfection underscores our humanity.
Now to the thrilling “Nine Sinatra Songs,” which the company performed just last season. First up were Asia Bui and Daniel Pratt. Bui was meant to waltz – her delicate air with just a hint of flirtation in her slight smile revealed how much she and the character she chose to play for this masterful performance enjoyed the company of her partner, Pratt, who was suave and debonair as he glided her effortlessly across the stage. I’m looking forward to seeing this winning pair dancing duets for years to come. Like Rhodes and Brown, their easy chemistry on stage was palpable.
Ricki Bertoni, character principal, is often cast in comedic roles and this year has been serving as romantic lead first as “The Husbandman” in “Appalachian Spring” and here as the dashing, whimsical partner of Samantha Benoit dancing to “Something Stupid.”
Ricardo Graziano and Marijana Dominis made sparks fly in their sultry dance to “Make It One for My Baby,” and Brown and Rhodes were back together again for “That’s Life.”
The finale featured all of the couples dancing to “I Did It My Way,” a piece which honors the individual spirit of the American dream. After a year of unrest and anxiety, it was exhilarating to watch the dancers rise and fall circling each other rhythmically to one of the most profound ballads in the American songbook. Through the great global pause, we had the chance to reexamine our lives and ensure we live a life filled with the full array of pleasures and pitfalls captured in the brilliantly choregraphed and performed piece. Nothing better underscore the lure of live performance than watching the same piece, beautifully executed for a digital audience last year, being staged with such confidence and vigor by the seven couples coming together to close out the evening for program 2 “Day and Night.”