Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
The program opened with Checkmate, choreography by Dame Ninette de Valois, music by Sir Arthur Bliss. This ballet was first presented by Sarasota Ballet in November 2008. It opens with Love (Flavia Abbadessa) and Death (Christopher Hird) at a chessboard. After what is essentially a prologue, the chess pieces come to life and a 50-minute battle between the black and read pieces ensues. The black queen is the prima ballerina, danced at the performance I saw by Danielle Brown. Other important characters include Red King (Ricki Bertoni), Red Queen (Victoria Hulland), and First Red Knight (Ricardo Rhodes). There are many other solo parts, as well. The whole affair is phantasmagorical, danced in art deco, bordering on Kandinsky settings, design by E. McKnight Kauffer. Sets and costumes from Birmingham Royal Ballet with the kind permission of David Bintley. I loved the whole thing. It showed the company at its absolute best.
After an intermission came two short abstract ballets by George Balanchine, Valse Fantaisie with music by Mikhail Glinka and danced by Victoria Hulland and Edward Barnes, assisted by four members of the corps de ballet. This is the kind of piece that can be boring if it goes on too long, which at about seven minutes, this one did not. Next came Tarantella, music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, an American composer of African-American descent. This was a pas de deux followed by five alternating solos (man, woman, man, woman, man joined by woman) and a finale pas de deux. All of this was wonderfully danced by Kate Honea and Logan Learned. There are some incredible piano solos in the midst of the orchestral texture, which were brilliantly played by Read Gainsford, guest pianist. The 10 minutes of this piece flew by and then another intermission. Sets and costumes for these two pieces were from Miami City Ballet with the kind permission of director Lourdes Lopez.
Next came Fancy Free, a piece I am familiar with, having seen it several times at New York City Ballet many moons ago and also being a huge Leonard Bernstein fan. Danzon, the third of three solo dances for each of the sailors, is something I often walk down the street singing to myself. This ballet did not come off nearly as well as the earlier parts of the program. The conducting did not capture the insouciance which is so much a part of this music. There was no space between the staccato notes that open Danzon which are clearly delineated in the music with rests. Also, the dancing simply wasn't as crisp as it needed to be. When the three men were fighting over two girls it seemed at best like horseplay, not an all out battle. The edginess, a hallmark of Robbins' style was much too softened. The three sailors were Logan Learned, Jamie Carter, and Ricardo Rhodes, by far the best in his solo with the sultry sexiness that Robbins looked for. Sets were the original Oliver Smith designs, costumes were by Kermit Love. These, also were on loan from Birmingham Royal Ballet, as above.
All of the ballets were conducted by Ormsby Wilkins leading The Sarasota Orchestra.
Sarasota Ballet, now in its 10th year under director Iain Webb, is continuing on a path of fine artistic achievement. In the past few years they have made debuts at the prestigious Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and appearances in Washington, D.C. and New York. Announcement of their 2017-2018 season offers a return engagement of Will Tuckett's delightful The Secret Garden in October and their production of John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker at holiday season. Check their website for more complete details.
Sarasota Ballet's De Valois, Balanchine & Robbinswas presented April 28-30, 2017. For more information please visit www.SarasotaBallet.org.