It takes a powerful ballet to bring both the audience and the performers to tears.
Former Sarasota Ballet dancer James Buckley hit the mark when he choreographed “Anne Frank.” Buckley’s interpretation of the diaries of the young girl who experienced the horrors of World War II is a contemporary ballet set to John Williams’ movie score for “Schindler’s List.” First premiered by the Sarasota Ballet in 2003, this was the third performance of Buckley’s work.
Mainly focused on the interpersonal relationships of those who hid from the Nazis in the secret Amsterdam annex, Buckley’s choreography combined drama, mime and comedy (of all things). His creative use of movement evoked powerful emotions.
Maybe the success lies in the dancers who performed “Anne Frank.” The cast who portrayed the families living together in the cramped secret annex — the Franks, Van Daans and Alfred Dussel, along with Dutch conspirators who hid the families, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl — seemed to understand the idiosyncrasies that occur when people are forced to be together in tight corners.
George Birkadze was brilliant as the anguished father, Otto Frank. Emily Dixon, with her languid lines, perfectly portrayed lovelorn teenager Margot Frank. Octavio Martin and Rita Duclos provided humor as the well-to-do Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan. Martin has perfected the well-heeled bumbler through dance, and Duclos has just the right shimmy to make even a straight-and-narrow dentist, à la Ricardo Rhodes as Alfred Dussel, swoon. Rhodes shined in a scene in which he was teaching Anne Frank (danced by Kate Honea) how to exercise. His energy was contagious. Sara Scheer, who danced the role of Miep Gies — the Dutch protector who hid the Franks in their company’s attic — danced with compassion and, at the curtain call at the end the performance, dissolved into heartfelt tears.
Honea portrayed Frank with unbridled passion. A role that calls for one to portray someone half her age is no doubt difficult. She pulled it off with aplomb. A pas de deux with Birkadze, as her father, was innocent fun. A pas de trois simulating a love triangle between her sister, Margot (Dixon), and Peter Van Daan, danced by Miguel Piquer, could have seemed lurid with insinuating lifts of the hips, but Honea portrayed Anne as an immature girl playing a game. She held the entire cast together as the centerpiece of all the group dances, excelling in the contemporary choreography by Buckley.
The most exciting choreography was reserved for the German soldiers. Buckley’s sharp movements of marching and arm pumps performed in a round of movements by four soldiers brought chills up the spine. This choreography would not have been so powerful if it were not for Simon Mummé, whose sharp and exact interpretation of the choreography was excellent. He was scary to the core.
Also on the bill was Yuri Possokhov’s “Firebird.” The complete opposite of “Anne Frank’s” serious subject matter, “Firebird” was a lighthearted rendition of the Russian folktale that combined classical ballet and Russian character dancing — intertwined with bits of comedy. It is a lovely version of the ballet, which is a welcome addition to the Sarasota Ballet repertoire.
“Firebird” showcased many of the new dancers joining the Sarasota Ballet. New soloist Ricardo Graziano danced the role of Prince Ivan. With his obvious dexterity of classical technique and his gorgeous lines and perfect pirouettes, combined with an underlying comedic ability, Graziano is one we look forward to seeing more of this season.
Despite a slip and fall upon her first step onto the stage, Ashley Ellis, who danced the role of Firebird, didn’t let the mishap rattle the rest of her performance. Ellis has a fantastic facility — perfect feet, excellent extensions, gravity-defying leaps and turns (seen in her fouetté sequence where she pulled off double pirouettes in between two fouettés) — but lacks a commanding stage presence. (American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Gillian Murphy is much the same.)
A bright light in the performance was Elizabeth Sykes as the Princess. She exudes a wholesome sweetness, which, combined with her flawless technique, results in a delightful experience. Her energy in pirouettes and lovely lines in arabesque leave one thinking she would always be the perfect princess in any ballet, be it Cinderella or Sugar Plum Fairy.
A critic should not admit to a favorite, but isn’t Logan Learned everyone’s favorite at the moment? He, yet again, was a delight to watch as Kaschei, a wild-haired skeleton, scissor-fingered sorcerer. Despite his minute stature, he ruled his posse of monsters with grandeur with his hip-undulating action combined with giant leaps and tongue-twisting smiles.
All in all, it was a fantastic start to the Sarasota Ballet’s 20th season. A special touch was the company-wide curtain call that included founder Jean Weidner.