A dramatic night of “Love and Betrayal” at the Sarasota Ballet

For the first time this season, the Sarasota Ballet was impacted by COVID, and one of the three pieces had to be scrapped when some of the company got sick during rehearsals. The pandemic has helped us all put things in perspective, and the notion that “the show must go on” while neglecting health and safety just won’t cut it anymore. We have all learned to value and prioritize our health and well-being. Although it meant a shorter evening of performance, it’s crucial that we protect the dancers and the audience, so going forward with “Love and Betrayal” with two dances was a wise decision.

The first piece of the evening “The Rake’s Progress” was a choreographed interpretation of the morality tale contained in the paintings by William Hogarth on which it was based. This parable about a rise and fall of a spoiled dandy whose wasteful behavior leads to his own demise is applicable to modern times, and a distant cousin to productions like the current Netflix hit “Don’t Look Up” about how man’s selfishness leads to his downfall.

The Sarasota Ballet in “A Rake’s Progress” (photo by Frank Atura)

Ricardo Graziano stunned as the Rake, an alpha male whose behavior was unbounded by propriety, as he engaged in debauchery and revelry after inheriting his thrifty father’s fortune. He spends the first several scenes with a drink in hand stumbling about surrounded by fawning women, including the kind and gentle aptly named “The Betrayed Girl,” played by Victoria Hulland. He is also joined by an array of men who wish to help relieve him of his newfound wealth, including a musician, tailor, and horse jockey. Dancers Richard House, Ivan Spitale, Daniel Pratt, and Evan Gorbell (he of the incredibly athletic jumps) as well as Lauren Ostrander do everything in their power to seduce and corrupt the all-too-willing Graziano. He casts Hulland aside, but when he is subsequently arrested and thrown into debtor’s prison, the others come to gawk but only Hulland comes to protect her former suitor.

Graziano’s final scene at the Madhouse was filled with artistry and pathos. He committed so fully to the rake’s unfortunate state, as he slowly, methodically depicted his descent into madness. We happened to be seated directly in front of the dancer, and his stark portrayal was startling and haunting. The bleak ending was difficult to absorb and quite different for a company that generally places the emphasis on pleasing aesthetics and profound joy. However, Graziano’s incredible performance and the willingness to go dark was bold and in some ways quite cathartic.

Ricardo Graziano in “The Rake’s Progress” (photo by Frank Atura)

When the curtain rose on the frothy pink extravaganza that is Frederick Ashton’s “Valses Nobles et sentimentales,” I was ready for it. This pre-Valentine’s day diversion into love, rapture, and joy is a favorite of mine in the repertoire of the Sarasota Ballet. As I have written many times before, Danielle Brown and Ricardo Rhodes have a unique kind of magic between them that comes from years of partnering with one another. Their pairing is always inspired, because they are both at the top of their game and bring so much depth to their performances. The costumes and the sets are aspirational – the performers pop and sparkle in rosy-pink and red satin accented with deep red velvet, dancing before screens in matching hues. Marijana Dominis and Daniel Pratt are an exciting new pairing, who are becoming poised for principal status. “Valses Nobles et sentimentales” is one of a growing number of pieces that should be staged regularly, because it showcases the skill of the company, the depth of the “bench,” as it were, and is just absolutely a pleasure to behold!

Next up is Mark Morris Dance Group, which is one of the world’s foremost modern dance companies. Morris has been named the “Mozart of modern dance.” We are so lucky to have a presenting organization, the Sarasota Ballet, that hits each of their own performances out of the park and also shares the season with renowned companies, such as Mark Morris, that elevate the tastes and breadth of experience with modern dance among our local audience. The Sarasota Ballet has an established niche, particularly favoring British choreographers, but explores modern dance and the work of budding choreographers, such as resident Graziano, to tremendous effect.

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