Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Secret Garden
Sarasota Ballet

Also see Bill's review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Edward French, Ricardo Graziano, Calvin Farias, Jessica Cohen and Alex Harrison
There is excitement in the air as Sarasota Ballet presents a world premiere of Will Tuckett's The Secret Garden based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's classic. The production is utterly entertaining from start to finish; every element is top drawer. The performance I saw, although an evening performance, had lots of children in attendance because of a picnic fundraiser that preceded. There was no noise to be heard during the show—every child was completely enthralled. At intermission I asked several groups of young people (ages from about 7 or 8 to young teens) for their reactions and all had different favorite characters. At the end the cast was in the lobby to greet their audiences and the kids seemed to love it.

The conceit of this version of The Secret Garden is that a narrator (Edward French) tells the story while dance carries the story visually and emotionally. The libretto, which includes the narration, is the work of Alasdair Middleton. It took me a few minutes to fall into the rhythm of the piece but once I did the narration and dance worked together harmoniously.

The musical score, tonal but early 20th century modern in style, is by Jeremy Holland-Smith. It was pre-recorded for this production with 17 musicians credited.

The sets and costumes by Tim Meacock and executed by Asolo Rep's costume and scenic shop are spectacular. Most of the set pieces are on wheels but do not suffer the flimsy look that easily moveable sets often do. All of the effects are things I have experienced before, but everything serves Mr. Tuckett's vision perfectly. In the second act the settings for the secret garden grow heavier and heavier with plant growth. The last scene shows Wisteria enveloping the magical place, a magical image for several in my party for whom Wisteria is a treasured memory.

The choreography comes from the language of classical ballet, albeit with a modern eye. The last scene of act one when Mary and Dickon first enter the garden makes the proper joyous effect that every version of this story I have ever seen delivers. Mary, as danced by Jessica Cohen, grows from scared but proudly wealthy young lady to happy child, brilliantly delineated in both the score and the choreography. Colin, danced by Alex Harrison, is likewise well characterized. In act two, scene three, when Colin first enters the garden, his dancing clearly shows the audience that his growing stronger is not without its pains. Dickon, the third member of this merry troupe, grows in confidence during the story and, danced by Ricardo Graziano, has the strongest most exuberant dancing in the garden scenes. Featured in this version are two couples, Mary's uncle Mr. Craven and his deceased wife Lilias (Jamie Carter and Victoria Hulland), and her deceased parents (Juan Gil and Danielle Brown). Other memorable characters that inhabit this ballet include housekeeper Mrs. Medlock and Doctor Webster (Kate Honea and Juan Gil), Martha (Sara Scherer), Doctor Fortescue (David Tlaiye) and Ben Weatherstaff (Ricki Bertoni). There are several puppets featured in this version, all of which add to the overall charm. This was my first visit to Sarasota Ballet and I was greatly encouraged by the excellence of all the dancing.

Will Tuckett's The Secret Garden is a complete delight. There are five more performances scheduled October 24-26, 2014. I hope that other ballet companies pick up this wonderful piece and that it becomes a staple of ballet repertory.

Sarasota Ballet presents The Secret Garden, remaining performances October 24-26, 2014, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 359-0099. For more information visit

Mary Lennox: Jessica Cohen
Dickon: Ricardo Graziano
Colin: Alex Harrison
Mr. Craven: Jamie Carter
Lillias (Mr. Craven's Deceased Wife): victoria Hulland
Mrs. Medlock: Kate Honea
Mrs. Lennox (Mary's Deceased Mother: Danielle Brown
Mr. Lennox (Mary's Deceased Father): Juan Gill
Martha: Sara Scherer
Ben Weatherstaff: Ricki Bertoni
Doctor Webster: Juan Gil
Doctor Fortescue: David Tlaiye
Female Servant & Crow Puppeteer: Kristianne Kleine
Female Servant & Nurse: Sareen Tchekmedyian
Female Servant and robin Puppeteer: Dagny Hanrahan
Female Servant: Ellen Overstreet
Male Servant & Crow Puppeteer: Daniel Rodriguez
Male Servant & Fox Puppeteer: Calvin Farias
Male Servant &Fox Puppeteer: Patrick Ward
Male Servant & Robin Puppeteer: Daniel Pratt
Narrator: Edward French

Choreography: Will Tuckett
Composer: Jeremy Holland: Smith
Designer: Tim Meacock
Librettist: Alasdair Middleton
Puppet Designer: Toby Olié*
Assistant to the Choreographer: Emma Brunton
Scoring Engineer: Mark Wyllie
Production Manager: Jeff Ellis
Lighting Designer: Aaron Muhl
Stage Manager: Mark Noble
Assistant Stage Manager: Miriam Wallace

Photo: Frank Atura

--William S. Oser

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