Kate Walsh Honea is curled up on a couch in her dressing room backstage at the Sarasota Ballet, talking about the impetus behind her ballet, “Percolator.”
Oddly, as Honea discusses the piece — inspired by a coffee shop and the popular bayfront exhibit “Embracing Our Differences” — the smell of freshly brewed java drifts down the corridor and seeps under Honea’s door.
Honea, together with fellow Sarasota Ballet dancers Octavio Martin and Jamie Carter, will share this season’s final bill with beloved choreographers George Balanchine and Matthew Bourne. It is the first time the trio has created original ballets for their own company, and the project has proven especially invigorating for Honea, a principal dancer who sat out half the season this year with an ankle injury.
“I spent the past two months with my foot in a boot,” Honea sighs. “All I’ve been doing is researching and listening to music, dancing around my living room and diagramming songs.”
The tie-in to “Embracing Our Differences,” up now through May 2 on the Sarasota bayfront, has not only helped steer the trio, it’s further cemented Artistic Director Iain Webb’s emphasis on collaboration within the community.
Pulling insight from several pieces of artwork featured in past and current “Embracing Our Differences” exhibitions, Honea, Martin and Carter choreographed short ballet performances. It’s the first time the dancers have created ballets for a professional company.
Honea’s piece, much like her personality, is light-hearted and effervescent. When she considered the theme of the ballet, she immediately thought of her husband’s coffee shop, Fuel, where you’re just as apt to run across a ballerina sipping an espresso as you are a motorcyclist downing a cappuccino.
“I didn’t want to do something too political,” says Honea, who chose to outfit dancers in 1940s-era costumes. “I wanted a piece the dancers could have fun with at the end of the year. A café seemed like the perfect setting — just look around one sometime. All walks of life come in and no one thinks twice about it.”
“Percolator” consists of four songs, all of them relating to coffee in some way, including a French pop song that gets increasingly hectic with each verse and singer Michael Bublé’s sultry cover of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” about an affair that takes place at a café.
Prop-wise, “Percolator” is the most complicated of the three ballets. Honea is vying for several bistro tables and a coffee bar. The artwork that best complements her caffeinated theme — Elena De Ville’s “Amar” and Ashley Lovett’s “Apples and Oranges” — will be framed and hung within the set.
Martin’s piece is decidedly more dramatic and lusty.
A native of Havana, Cuba, Martin, who is also a principal dancer, drew on his Latin-American roots and penchant for romance when he created “On the Outside,” inspired by a painting by Houston artist Marthann Masterson.
Set to Argentinean tango music by Mikael Jöback and Astor Piazzolla, Martin describes his ballet as “a fusion of different feelings,” above all: loneliness, love and longing.
He chose Masterson’s painting of scattered wooden chairs against a faded orange backdrop because it communicated sensations often characterized by classically romantic ballets. Unlike Honea’s plucky choreography, Martin’s theme and movements are less literal.
“When I look to the painting, I see that love is wonderful, but also painful,” Martin says. “But I don’t want to tell people what they have to see in my ballet. I want them to feel what they want to feel. I want them to interpret.”
Rounding out the premiere is Carter’s “Exist,” an emotional tribute to late Royal Ballet dancer David Ashemole, who taught the dancer when he was a student at the London Studio Centre. Set to Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G minor for cello and piano and inspired by Polish artist Maciej Hoffman’s image of two abstract faces in white and black, Carter’s piece explores the idea of life and death.
Featuring only three dancers, the dance is subdued in comparison to the other two works. Even the costumes are stark — bodices and long skirts in pale and midnight blue. The concept is something Carter, now in his third season with the company, has mulled over for a year, prior to ever being handed this assignment.
“The idea was pretty instant,” Carter says. “I don’t think any of us thought about the fact that we’re all drawn to different styles. It was just a lucky coincidence.”
If You Go
The Sarasota Ballet will perform Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations,” Matthew Bourne’s “Infernal Galop” and new choreography by Kate Walsh Honea, Jamie Carter and Octavio Martin at 8 p.m. April 23, 2 and 7 p.m. April 24 and 2 and 8 p.m. April 25, at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail. For more information, call 359-0099 or visit www.sarasotaballet.org.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at email@example.com.