To celebrate its resident choreographer’s 10-year anniversary, the Sarasota Ballet opens its season with a retrospective of his work.
Like many young dancers, Ricardo Graziano’s first stage was his living room floor. He grew up in Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil, watching the dance recitals of his older sister, Valéria. And after intently studying each move, he would rush home to perform the routines himself. When his sister’s school began accepting male dance students when he was 8 years old, his mother ushered him into classes.
“My mom was like: ‘OK, now you should give this a try. I don’t want you dancing in the living room anymore,’” Graziano, 32, says. “And I fell in love with it, of course.”
To celebrate Graziano’s 10-year anniversary with the Sarasota Ballet, the company is opening its season with a program devoted to three works that Graziano has created over the years for it.
The show, titled “Graziano, Retrospective,” will feature his first choreographed ballet, “Shostakovich Suite,” as well as “En las Calles de Murcia” and “State of Weightlessness.”
Chosen by Sarasota Ballet Director Iain Webb, the works represent three distinctive styles. “Suite” focuses on classical ballet, while “de Murcia” has a folk feel in its music and contemporary movement, and “Weightlessness” encompasses 10 modern pas de deux.
When choosing which ballets to feature from Graziano’s repertoire of the 10 he has created for the company, Webb said he looked for three ballets that would flow together from a choreographic and musical standpoint.
“In many ways, programming is like preparing a three-course meal,” Webb says. “One needs an appetizer to introduce the performance to the audience, a [main course] middle piece and then a dessert to send the audience off with. For this, choosing ‘Shostakovich’ was an obvious [beginning], especially as it was the first ballet Ricardo choreographed. To end the evening with ‘Weightlessness,’ is the perfect close to the program, like a fine wine to end your experience with.”
Performer to creator
Graziano came to Sarasota after stops in Europe and the Tulsa Ballet, his first job in the states. He joined the Sarasota Ballet in 2010 and was promoted to principal dancer the following year. But soon after Graziano’s arrival, Webb saw his potential as more than just a dancer.
After Graziano’s first year with the Sarasota Ballet, Webb asked if he would consider creating a pas de deux for “Theatre of Dreams” (then known as “Spring Surprise,”) a ballet that showcases the choreography of company dancers.
Graziano answered with a resounding no, believing that he wasn’t ready. But after some consideration, he changed his mind.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night because I went home and [asked myself]: ‘What did I just say yes to? Ricardo, are you crazy? This is a professional company, and you’ve never created anything professionally. What do you think you’re doing?’” Graziano says. “And then I ended up coming up with three ideas for three different ballets.”
Webb selected two of the pieces Graziano presented. Webb said Graziano’s modern piece was the right fit for the “Theatre of Dreams” production, which would close out the following season.
But Webb said he wanted to take a deeper look at Graziano’s classical idea and potentially use it to fill the opening spot in the upcoming season. Graziano says Webb told him to work with a few of his friends to create the opening scene, so they could get a feel for what the ballet would look like.
The ballet became “Shostakovich Suite,” which opened the 2011-12 season and opened Graziano’s eyes to his possibility as a choreographer.
From there he went on to choreograph the ballets “Symphony of Sorrows” in 2012, “Pomp and Circumstance” in 2013, “Valsinhas” in 2013, “Before Night Falls” in 2014, “En las Calles de Murcia” in 2015, “In a State of Weightlessness” in 2015, “Sonata in Four Movements” in 2016 and “Amorosa” in 2016.
Back on stage
Although each of the ballets in this program has been performed previously, Graziano, named resident choreographer in 2014, is taking this opportunity to fine tune them with the benefit of fresh eyes.
To get back into the mindset of each ballet, Graziano watched videos of past performances. As he studied the movements, he took note of the little parts he wanted to change or fix.
Audience members might not recognize any changes, but there are little tweaks in certain steps to make sure each ballet complements the dancers.
“I’m always so open to changing and making what’s best for them,” Graziano says. “I want to make sure that they look their best because I’m not [the one] going on stage.”
So how does a ballet go from an idea to performance?
Before Graziano steps into the studio to work with the dancers, he has the majority of the ballet formatted in his head.
For most of his pieces, finding the right music choice is followed by the choreography forming in his head — though with “Weightlessness,” he said the process was just the opposite.
He had decided on the name of the ballet, the storyline, the movement, the costumes and even the lighting direction before he found the music, which is something he said makes the process difficult as it sends him on a hunt for the music playing inside his head that he’s not sure exists.
Once he has the pieces, he then looks to edit. It all comes back to how the choreography works with the dancers’ bodies.
In rehearsals, Graziano pays close attention to how each move flows with the dancers. In the learning stage, he and the dancers will brainstorm how a move can work better for each couple or how to make a step safer, such as changing the footing in the landing of a jump.
Amy Wood and Daniel Pratt, “de Murcia” dance partners, recognize the importance of being open about how the different steps work for them as dancers.
“[Graziano] might go: ‘You know what, this didn’t work so well last time. I’m going to do something different here,’” Pratt says.
While reworking a lift from “de Murcia,” Pratt says Graziano was collaborating with the dancers to maintain the foundation of the choreography but also to change it to make it more exciting and alive.
“I get the sense that’s what he’s trying to do with all of the pieces,” Pratt says. “It’s still the [same] steps and choreography, but then [he’s trying to] see how we can make it even more impactful.”
The trust that comes with having worked with Graziano as a fellow dancer and choreographer allows for a better conversation throughout rehearsal, the dancers say.
“He knows us as people,” Pratt says. “The fact that he’s sweating with us every day means he really knows our strengths and weaknesses, and he knows us quite personally. When it comes to choreographing us, he has a very good idea about where we would fit in a piece, and he is good at drawing out our strengths.”
“[Graziano] is really good at giving individual attention and treating everyone in the rehearsal space with the same amount of attention,” Wood adds. “It makes it a nice process, which then colors the way you remember a ballet.”
Graziano says his years as a principal dancer and choreographer have helped him find his strengths and his voice.
“I’m still learning … from things I did back then, and I’m questioning why I did that [step] or realizing that [move] was actually really smart,” Graziano says. “I often tell myself to not be afraid of doing something silly or stupid because it might work. And then if it doesn’t, then you just change it.”