Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Not only did the Sarasota Ballet revive a holiday tradition with its world premiere of Matthew Hart’s “John Ringling’s Circus Nutcraker,” but it has created a new Sarasota celebration surely to be enjoyed by ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and children of all ages for many years to come.
You could just feel the exuberant joy emanating from the full house of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall as the familiar Tchaikovsky score echoed throughout the hall, as played by the live Sarasota Orchestra led by conductor Andrew Lane. The magical sets by Peter Docherty added whimsy and delight to the all-around stunning production. And the dancers — oh, the dancers — performed to their highest abilities, showing the internal pride and gusto of the entire cast and crew.
Hart’s imaginative choreography and storyline, which is based loosely on Sarasota’s great circus history and the heritage of John and Mable Ringling, showed that massive amounts of thought and attention were infused into every second of the production. It should be said again: The entire show was brilliant … just simply brilliant. What an exciting thing for the Sarasota Ballet. Bravo.
One more thing: Every single dancer on stage, including the exceptional students of The Sarasota Ballet School, deserved the wild applause of the standing ovation they received on opening night. Every step of the choreography was danced with precision. There was not one accident, line of out of place, askew pointe shoe ribbon, missed pirouette or leap. If not particularly mentioned in this review, all of the dancers were noticed and admired and need to be congratulated on an exceptional performance.
The ballet begins with the Stahlbaum family traveling by train to New York City, where they come across John Ringling (David Tlaiye) and his nephew, John Ringling North (Logan Learned), supervising the circus loading up for travel at Grand Central Station. Later, the circus entourage arrives at the Christmas Party at a glitzy hotel as surprise guests. This is where the traditional story unfolds, as Clara, danced by Sara Sardelli, connects with Ringling’s nephew.
There couldn’t be a more perfect role for Sardelli as the wide-eyed, dreamy, young girl who is the central character of the show. Her youthful appearance lends itself well to the role. Jamie Carter, as the hotel manager, was the highlight of the party scene with his colorful expressions and sense of humor that infused his every step.
With the exception of Act II, the battle scene with the gangster mice was probably this critic’s favorite. Other than a giant-sized battery operated mouse, there was no scurrying on stage. Instead, there was a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which elicited laughter from the audience.
The snow scene was as glittery as ever, led by Danielle Brown and Ricardo Rhodes. The “snowflakes” interwove through intricate formations with turning attitude jumps in a circle and gliding pas de bourée courus that made them appear to ice skate.
Instead of the Land of Sweets, Act II took place at the Kingdom of the Circus at its winter headquarters in Sarasota. The sets, costumes, props and different dances made this act as delicious as ever. There are too many wonderful dancers and moments to mention, so we’ll focus on some highlights.
Christine Peixoto and Daniel Rodriguez were exceptionally sultry during the Arabian pas de deux. Rita Duclos was a true standout in the Tightrope dance, which featured five girls who seemed to never leave the tips of their pointe shoes the entire time. The Waltz of the Roses, which was inspired by Mable Ringling’s rose garden, was so gorgeous and moving, it’s almost impossible to describe.
But the ultimate moment of the entire ballet was the trapeze artists Sugar and Prince’s pas de deux. The pas de deux was a modernized spin on the traditional Sugar Plum pas de deux, solo variations and coda. Kate Honea and Ricardo Graziano demonstrated that they are true principal dancers by executing every step with sheer precision. They performed difficult steps such as multiple fouetté turns for Honea and grand jeté en manèges for Graziano. This pair didn’t miss a beat. Their performance was flawless.
The only disappointing thing about this production was that it was only performed three times in Sarasota. Let’s hope that next year the Sarasota Ballet will return to the glory days of performing a week’s-long run of “John Ringling’s Circus Nutcracker.” If you missed it, don’t despair. The Sarasota Ballet is taking the show on the road, much like the circus, Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, at Ruth Eckerd Hall, in Clearwater.Don’t miss it.