The Sarasota Ballet paid tribute to one of America’s most renowned choreographers, George Balanchine, with a diverse program featuring three of his works: “Divertimento No. 15,” “Prodigal Son,” and “Who Cares?” Each piece highlighted different aspects of the Balanchine style: classical ballet in “Divertimento”; a story ballet (rare for Balanchine) with “Prodigal Son”; and jazzy lyricism with “Who Cares?”
“Divertimento No. 15” requires the dancers to demonstrate long lines, with both their arms and legs, paired with fast footwork in petits battements. Set to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the ballet includes a cast of eight principal dancers — five women and three men — and eight female members of the corps de ballet.
“Divertimento” is a technically challenging ballet and the members of the corps rose to the challenge. They managed to keep up with the fast-paced movement and maintain their lines, however an overall elasticity required by the Balanchine style was lacking throughout the corps, making the movement seem stiff and static. For example, one combination for the girls in the corps required the dancers to tombé from an arabesque with an overextended hip. Emily Dixon, Elizabeth Sykes and Rita Duclos perfectly demonstrated this overextended movement.
David Nava’s clean technique boasts perfect fifth positions after every step and is only enhanced by his beautiful facilities, which include long lines and beautiful feet. His arabesques are cause for applause.
Ashley Ellis seemed at ease with the Balanchine choreography and received oohs and aahs during her pas de deux with Miguel Piquer, when she performed multiple arabesque penchées that went far past 180-degrees. Kate Honea demonstrated lightening-speed footwork en pointe and during a pirouette sequence that rotated between en dehors (outward) and en dedans (inward).
There couldn’t have been anyone better to dance the Prodigal Son than Logan Learned, whose acting abilities, paired with his tremendous technique, were put to good use. Learned started out the ballet with a lighthearted dance scene with the Goons — nine bald-headed crazy men (who were actually a highlight of the entire piece) — and then ended the piece with repentant drama as he returned to his home stripped of his ego and material goods.
The seduction scene of “Prodigal Son” seemed unusually tepid. The choreography for the siren, danced by Danielle Brown, is erotic, powerful and controlled, yet Learned and Brown’s performance seemed to be lacking something. Many times the siren is danced by an extremely tall woman, which makes the choreography even more dramatic and pronounced. Even though Brown is much taller than Learned, there were some movements that seemed less dynamic than they should have been.
Of course, “Who Cares?” set to music by George Gershwin was an audience favorite. The jazzy ballet was danced in front of a New York City skyline backdrop. The cast of 24 danced with exuberance and passion that earned them a well-deserved standing ovation after the opening-night performance.
Standouts of “Who Cares?” include:
• Sara Scherer was easily picked out of the cast of “10 girls.” She stepped outside of the ballet comfort zone giving a free-feeling flair to her dancing.
• Simon Mummé continues to showcase a more mature aspect of his dancing. He was a perfect partner to Christine Peixoto in “S’wonderful.”
• Victoria Hulland looked like she thoroughly enjoyed her dancing in “The Man I Love” with Octavio Martin. She brought a flirtatious side to this performance.
• Ellis danced one of the most memorable solos from “Who Cares?” — “Stairway to Paradise” — with a light-heartedness and lightness on her feet.
• Martin and Honea demonstrated what seniority looks like in a ballet company during their pas de deux, “Embraceable You.” Both dancers exude mature confidence that only makes their dancing more exciting.
• Honea wowed again in her solo, “My One and Only,” with an en dedans double-piqué turn sequence, which is incredibly difficult, but she pulled it off with ease.