Ellen Overstreet lies beneath Ricardo Graziano. She gazes seductively into his eyes. Her tanned bare leg points toward the sky as if she’s about to wrap it around the principal dancer. It results in a sexy marketing photograph for the upcoming Program 2 of Sarasota Ballet. But, being a sultry seductress doesn’t come naturally to the dancer, regardless of how well she pretends.
“I had Maggie (Barbieri) screaming, ‘Come on, be saucy!’” Overstreet says, doing her best British impersonation of the Sarasota Ballet’s assistant director.
Overstreet has mastered the temptress side required for playing the role of Profane Love in Sarasota Ballet’s premiere of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Illuminations” Nov. 22 and 23 at Sarasota Opera House. But Overstreet in real life is the American girl next door. In fact, she’s more of the role of the elegant and beautiful Sacred Love than the seductive, femme fatale Profane Love.
“She’s stubborn,” Overstreet says describing her character in the ballet. “She doesn’t take no for an answer.”
“Illuminations” is about an outcast French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, and his erratic mental states, during which he interacts with personifications of Sacred and Profane Love. It’s not a lucid plot, and offers a lot of imagery.
One of the up-to-your-interpretation, symbolic images is that Profane Love dances with a bare left foot and a pointe shoe on the right foot. Overstreet says it was surprisingly easy to get used to.
And, with the lack of photos, footage or even writing about the ballet on the Internet, this allows Overstreet to make the character her own.
For Overstreet, this is her favorite part of being a professional dancer.
“I like getting to dance a role that’s really challenging,” she says. “I like the process of working on something every day…one that I can struggle on but see improvement.” It’s gratifying.
Then, Overstreet gives away the secret — ballet is not as easy as the Sarasota Ballet dancers make it look. Sometimes there’s a step you can’t do or a tight muscle giving you problems. And there’s the lingering fear looming that most every dancer is prone to an injury at some point.
“Even if you had a great day and great class yesterday, you pretty much start over the next day,” she says.
Overstreet is poised and speaks with as much grace as she dances. It’s easy to forget that she’s only 20 years old. Just three years ago, she was a junior in high school in McLean, Va., right outside of Washington, D.C. She lived a balanced adolescence heading from piano lessons to ballet class, to soccer practice and basketball games. In ninth grade, her ballet teacher advised her to attend summer intensives, and asked her if she’d consider dancing as a career.
She had already missed the school bonfires and football games for ballet, and for her, it was a relatively easy decision. So, instead of taking a normal senior year of high school, she opted to move to San Francisco and pursue her passion professionally. And by the time most of her peers were celebrating making it through their first year of college, she was celebrating a contract with Sarasota Ballet.
The hardest part was not finishing her schooling, although Overstreet takes online college courses after getting home from Sarasota Ballet rehearsals. She says it’s to keep her brain sharp.
“It makes me feel accomplished every time I complete an exam, and when I go home I can put my mind on something other than ballet,” she says.
As if she wasn’t already accomplished. She’s in her second year dancing in a professional company, was promoted to coryphée this fall and is now dancing one of the spotlighted roles in a performance. Even if she can’t yet order a cocktail at a bar.
Of course, she doesn’t need any booze to get into her current character. For Overstreet, the sultry music and a dance partner who keeps it fun and relaxed is enough for her to completely let go.
On stage she’s not thinking about the audience or that she’s playing a role. “In a role like ‘Illuminations,’ you put yourself in character and you are actually the woman who is trying to get her man,” she says with a laugh. She only remembers she’s Ellen Overstreet when it’s time to take a bow.
Ellen Overstreet’s five favorite places in Sarasota:
Indigenous — “I go there as a celebratory, special meal. I like that they use local fresh ingredients, and that the menu is always changing. I love going there with my mom and trying a bunch of different dishes and trying each other’s — it’s just the best.”
Lido Beach and the Ringling Bridge — “Walking over the bridge you don’t feel like you’re in Sarasota, it feels like you’re on vacation. It’s an instant escape.”
Whole Foods — “I do my shopping at Trader Joe’s. But Whole Foods is good for lunches. Sometimes I study there.”
Social On First — “We went there after a show. Their pizza is amazing, and the atmosphere is awesome. I feel like it’s a hot spot of Sarasota — a new hot spot.”
The Ringling garden — “That’s another one of my escape places. If I have a long break or between shows and I don’t want to go home (I go there). I love going there and walking by the water. It’s one of those places that clears your mind and it feels so good to stay outside.”
IF YOU GO
‘Balanchine & Ashton’
George Balanchine’s ‘Serenade;’ Sir Frederick Ashton’s ‘Illuminations;’ and George Balanchine’s ‘Who Cares?’
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22 and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23
Where: Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.
Cost: Tickets are $33.25 to $100
Info: Call 359-0999, Ext. 101 or visit sarasotaballet.org
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