Surely the Sarasota and Clearwater audiences would agree that there could not have been a program so expertly combined with George Balanchine’s neoclassical masterpiece, “Diamonds,” and Sir Frederick Ashton’s heartwarming story ballet, “The Two Pigeons.” And, the fabulous dancers performing both pieces were the icing on the cake. It was simply delicious.
The Sarasota audience was treated to both casts of “Diamonds” — featuring Sarasota Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet principals and soloists — and two casts of Sarasota Ballet dancers in “The Two Pigeons.” All the dancers’ performances were brilliant, with each cast conveying its own uniqueness with technical and performance-quality fortes.
“Diamonds” sparkled, of course, from the moment the curtain went up. Just the sight of the 12 corps de ballet ballerinas in their glittering costumes exuded gasps of delight from the audience. The corps, which was a mixture of both Sarasota Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancers, adeptly performed Balanchine’s intricate choreography that called for different sequences in “rounds,” like in a song, while going in and out of diagonals and star-shaped formations.
The excitement intensified when soloists Victoria Hulland and Kate Honea (dancing alongside Suzanne Farrell Ballet soloists Violeta Angelova and Elisabeth Holowchuk) entered the stage dancing in perfect unison as mirror images — almost making it hard to tell them apart — with quick footwork, bourrées and pas de chats while weaving in and out of the corps de ballet.
Danielle Brown and Ricardo Graziano were a class act in the extensive adagio pas de deux. Brown’s theatrics deeply intensified the beautiful choreography, however she had this critic gasping in fear during moments of incredibly difficult choreography. But her partner, Graziano, did his job in saving the day. Brown’s Suzanne Farrell Ballet counterpart, Heather Ogden, who is with the National Ballet of Canada, displayed a stronger and more stable performance in this role, as well as a more mature port de bras and presence that is surely one that comes with experience.
Graziano yet again confirmed all the recent accolades he has received, with not only his proficient partnering, but also with an amazing manéges that included grande jetés and jetés that included a fouetté into an attitude en l’air. He also executed perfect pirouettes à la seconde that ended with a round of applause as he finished them on one knee.
The final coda that included every dancer in the ballet was a sight to behold. There’s something exciting about having more than 30 dancers on stage at once. The dancers’ precision and regard of lines and formation made the conclusion of the ballet glimmer with the clarity called for by Balanchine’s choreography.
“The Two Pigeons” was equally exciting. The story will always strike chords with audience members. But the cast truly brings the story home.
Hulland did just that in the role of the Young Girl. Her mannerisms and expressions were spot on and seemed to be much more in tune with the role than the previous time she danced the Young Girl. Hulland danced with naïveté, anger, loss and a determined attitude. But what stood out most was her comedic ability. Hulland wowed with her knack for knowing when it was time for an exaggerated expression.
Sara Sardelli, who also danced the role of the Young Girl, was incredibly mischievous and free spirited in the role, which she danced with technical ease. Sardelli’s partner was Logan Learned as the Young Man; the duo is a perfect pair. Their chemistry wasn’t as dramatic as Hulland and her partner, Octavio Martin, but almost more tender and truer to that of young love.
Learned, as always, wowed the audience with his precise turning combinations and split jumps that surpassed 180 degrees.
The gypsy scene in the two pigeons is a fabulous spectacle. The sheer number of dancers on stage jumping, kicking and turning with high energy was superb. With that many dancers, you run the risk of the choreography and lines looking sloppy. Not so in this show. The cast maintained lines, formations and musicality with ease.
The real high point of the gypsy scene, however, was truly the Lead Gypsy Girl Honea. Her shimmies shook up the stage as she used her sex appeal to allure the Young Man away from the Young Girl. Honea owned the stage with her presence. Mizuki Fujimoto, who also performed the role in the matinee, danced the role nicely with a subtle touch.
Finally, they must get a mention: The real, live, two, white pigeons absolutely steal the show at the end. It truly is sweet when they fly on stage to be together again, just as the Young Girl and the Young Man are reunited.
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