The opening performance of the Sir Frederick Ashton Festival was a delightful treat. The combination of Ashton’s works — “Birthday Offering,” “Illuminations” and “Façade” — paired with the accompaniment of the Sarasota Orchestra made for a magical evening indeed.
The Sarasota Ballet dancers seemed excited, albeit maybe a bit nervous, to kick-off the festival that celebrates one of the greatest choreographers of our time. The program included the very classical “Birthday Offering,” the contemporary “Illuminations” and the comical “Façade.” It can’t be helped but “Façade” is always the audience favorite.
“Birthday Offering” is a salute to the prowess of the female dancer showing the different styles and feats ballerinas can achieve. Each of the ballerinas demonstrated their individual strength in their solos: Nicole Padilla — pirouettes; Danielle Brown — stylistic nuances; Amy Wood — controlled elegance; Kate Honea — jumps; Ellen Overstreet — extensions; Sareen Tchekmedyian — hops en pointe; Victoria Hulland — delicate balances.
“Illuminations” is almost a psychedelic piece with the ensemble cast costumed almost like white clowns moving about and around the hero — “The Poet” danced by Ricardo Graziano — as he is torn between Sacred Love, Amy Wood, and Profane Love, Ellen Overstreet. Graziano is always the most dashing prince of a dancer in both his acting abilities and exceptional technique. Wood was ethereal as Sacred Love and Overstreet demonstrated a flirtatious side while dancing with one pointe shoe on and one foot bare.
“Façade” delighted the audience as it always does and the dancers seemed to enjoy performing it just as much. Favorite sections include the Milkmaid, which Kate Honea with her wired-braided pigtails always delights with humor. The Valse with Amy Wood, Kristianne Kleine, Emily Dixon and Sareen Tchekmedyian performed with bouncing sugary sweetness. And Popular Song, where Juan Gil and Ricki Bertoni performed in exact tandem that they almost seemed like they are Siamese twins. The entire cast of Façade was a joy to behold and the perfect way to start off the Festival.