Ashley Ellis and Kate Honea.
If a dance review only needed five words, those would be they.
The two dancers proved their raw talent as the lead Stompers in Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” over the past weekend in Sarasota Ballet’s triple bill, which also included Christopher Wheeldon’s “The American” and Will Tuckett’s “Spielende Kinder.”
Ellis, a soloist, and Honea, a principal, were by far the standouts of Tharp’s incredibly athletic, exhilarating contemporary piece, for which the entire cast needs to be commended for executing a near-perfect performance. The role of the Stompers was the most technically challenging with pure non-stop jumping, turning and undulating movements for the entire piece. Ellis and Honea never once showed an ounce of exhaustion, keeping the energy going and infusing that energy to the rest of the cast. Truly, it was hard to take your eyes off the two.
The piece was first performed in 1986, which was evident by the costuming of parachute pants, large bold stripes and the old-school Reebok sneakers worn by the Stompers. People may think dancing en pointe is difficult, but, for dancers, turning and leaping in sneakers with rubber, sticky soles is even more difficult. This is another reason to commend Ellis and Honea and their fellow Stompers in their performance.
Praise also goes to Elizabeth Sykes and Kristianne Kleine, who danced the Bomb Squad, performing in the ballet portion of the piece. Kleine, a new member of the company, attacked the choreography with ferocity.
It’s rare to see a Sarasota audience leap to its feet as the curtain goes down, but the audience certainly did at the close of “In the Upper Room.” It’s also rare for this critic to yearn to see a ballet reprised in the same season — but, please, Mr. Webb, can we see “In the Upper Room” again? Three shows were definitely not enough.
To be honest, Wheeldon’s “The American,” was somewhat of a letdown. From one of the most-lauded current choreographers, we would have hoped for something a little bit more intriguing, but it was pleasant, nonetheless.
The last-minute replacement of Jamie Carter, due to illness, with Ricki Bertoni, obviously had a slight effect on the cast with some formations being out of line and a few musical mishaps with his partner, Victoria Hulland, but overall, the dancers performed the lyrical piece with ease. Most beautiful was when the male partners held the female dancers in arabesque while they pliéd back and forth, emulating waves of grain in a blowing wind.
The second movement pas de deux with Danielle Brown and Octavio Martin was lovely and nice with elegant lifts.
The pleasant surprise of the evening was Tuckett’s “Spielende Kinder.” Set to music by Carl Orff, the piece was a playful ballet that included 11 different vignettes that intertwined members of the 12-person cast.
Sara Sardelli, Rita Duclos and Logan Learned always display their technical talent, but their innate comedic ability makes one smile. George Birkadze wowed us in “Anne Frank,” and he did again in “Spielende Kinder.” He also has a stage presence that, matched with his technical ability, is a pleasure to watch. Longtime member of the company Abigail Henninger seemed to have her “coming out” performance. She has improved over the last few years and it definitely showed in Tuckett’s piece.
The triple bill production by the Sarasota Ballet was a smashing success. The great combination of different styles of dancing made for a fabulous performance to behold.