Ice skaters, ballerinas and cowboys, oh my! One would think the three wouldn’t mix, but, oh, how enjoyable a mix in the Sarasota Ballet’s recent production that included Sir Frederick Ashton’s winter-wonderland piece, “Les Patineurs,” Christopher Wheeldon’s lyrical homage to America’s bread basket, “The American,” and Agnes DeMille’s Western fantasy, “Rodeo.”
“Les Patineurs” opens with four Brown Couples gliding onto the stage, arms interlocked in a series of slow arabesque chugs in a circle. The dancers proceed to emulate ice-skating with precision with steps such as chassés, twirling turns with their partners and a multitude of fouetté arabesque jumps in star-shaped formations. Their thighs had to be burning, but all their faces featured pleasant smiles … just like those you’d find on the faces of families skating at Rockefeller Center.
Those smiles and skating-like proficiency remained even when a near-disaster almost occurred during a traffic jam during one of the fouetté arabesque jump diagonals between two dancers, but the bump-into was barely noticeable.
Blue Girls Kate Honea and Nicole Padilla skipped across stage en pointe in and out of the ballet and wowed the audience with their technical skills and adorable stage personas. Padilla whipped off multiple fouetté turns that included double pirouettes in between each fouetté. Honea performed an amazing piqué turn manèges that included a double-piqué turn that started with one arm in fifth position and ended with the opposite arm in fifth position that finally ended with a fouetté into attitude.
Red Girls Danielle Brown and Christine Peixoto seemed to have their musicality off in the beginning of their duo but later demonstrated grand movements with incredible high extensions in devéloppés.
As the Blue Boy, Logan Learned impishly entered the stage throughout the piece with diminutive skips, but right before he left the stage he wowed the audience with enormous skills such as high-jumping entrechat six and no-handed cartwheels manèges. He literally brought the curtain down with his chugging grand pirouette à la seconde. The curtain rose again to show that Learned was still turning, and the audience erupted into applause as the curtain came to a final close. He stole the show.
Wheeldon’s “The American,” is a beautiful ballet set to the music of Antonin Leopold Dvorák. The ballet is meant to highlight America’s prairies and plains at different times when the sun and moon illuminate them. The entire cast of this ballet consisted of principals, soloists and coryphée with the exception of Yoohong Lee, who is a member of the corps de ballet, so from the start you knew you were in for an impeccable performance, which it was.
Brown, aided by the strong partnering skill of Octavio Martin, demonstrated a passionate and fluid pas de deux, while the entire cast, with their individual pas de deuxs, pas de trois and multiple couple vignettes, seemed to ooze with deliciousness like that of warm syrup. In plain speak: “The American” was quite perfect.
DeMille’s “Rodeo,” was downright fun. Choreographed in 1942, DeMille was at the forefront of contemporary choreography among the likes of Jerome Robbins. “Rodeo” combines folk dancing, Broadway show-style dancing and ballet set to the all-American score of Aaron Copeland.
Elizabeth Sykes was charming as the Cowgirl. Displaying a perfect combination of naiveté and humor, Sykes kept up with the Cow-Hands during her pursuit of the Head Wrangler, Martin. Ricardo Rhodes proved that dancers can call a square dance scene. And Rita Duclos displayed beautiful lines in plunging arabesque penchées during her pas de deux with Martin.
But, yet again, Learned stole the show as the Champion Roper. Not only does Learned have a multitude of talents, technical skills, fabulous tricks, amazing acting abilities, but he can also … tap. Yes, tap. And in cowboy boots, no less! Tapping is incredibly difficult for ballet dancers, because in tapping you must relax your feet as opposed to keeping them pointed at all times. Learned dazzled the audience with his newfound ability and, in the end, won the heart of Cowgirl Sykes.
Learned’s exceptional abilities were acknowledged during the curtain call, when Director Iain Webb made a surprise announcement that he was promoting Learned to principal dancer — a well-deserved recognition.
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