Marking its 25th anniversary, the Sarasota Ballet performed its pinnacle show of the season featuring Sir Frederick Ashton's "Enigma Variations" and George Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes."
Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Engima Variations” and George Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes” could not be more different ballets, yet the commonality between the two lies within the patriotism fueled through the pieces. “Enigma Variations” is very English with its 19th century sets and costumes and music by one of England’s most celebrated classic composers, Edward Elgar. While “Stars and Stripes” is all-American with sets and costumes in red, white & blue, celebrating the U.S.A.’s armed forces with pieces set to John Philip Sousa’s marches. The music of both these pieces really was the driving force behind the Sarasota Ballet’s latest show so it was integral to have Ormsby Wilkins at the helm conducting the Sarasota Orchestra.
The Sarasota Ballet is the first company outside of The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet to perform Ashton’s “Enigma Variations (My Friends Pictured Within),” which is a ballet based on composer Elgar’s career and path to fame and the friends that surrounded him during that period. The piece is comprised of 13 different variations and the dancers did an excellent job playing the different characters. The elaborate costumes and sets were stunning, complete with a winding staircase the dancers bounded up and down throughout the piece — although some of the dancers were almost unrecognizable mustached and bewigged.
David Tlaiye was a stately and stoic Elgar and the mainstay of the piece. The role of The Lady Elgar suited Amy Wood perfectly, which she danced with elegance and grace. Ricki Bertoni added his signature gait to the eccentric character of Richard Baxter Townsend. Juan Gil leapt down the staircase to dance the role of William Meath Baker that included multiple cabrioles, fouetté chugs and sharp slides across the stage.
Alex Harrison was flawless as Arthur Troyte Griffith performing fast paced jumps with sharp changing arms and an échappé pirouette sequence. Nicole Padilla’s variation as little girl Dora Penny was performed almost entirely en pointe. Logan Learned was playful and fun as George Robertson Sinclair performing flips over his cane. And Danielle Brown was ethereal as the vision of Lady Mary Lygon with a chiffon cape that swirled around her almost giving the illusion of wings.
Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes” has five campaigns that include three regiments, a pas de deux with variations and coda and a finale featuring the entire cast. Sorry ladies, but the men were the absolute standouts of this show.
Logan Learned was the commander of the Thunder and Gladiator all-male regiment and he seriously commanded the stage performing multiple tricks (something we’ve come to expect from him) like three consecutive double tour en l’air into a split and sticking every one of them with a perfect fifth position landing. The men impressed the audience with a giant grand jeté manèges around Learned while he turned in the center. Then the troops performed a series of double tour en l’air interspersed with marching all in unison that ended with a salute.
Ricardo Rhodes carried the fourth campaign as El Capitan. His performance was strong, clean and executed with great musicality. His smile radiated from the stage and you could tell that he was having fun while he played with the audience with his facial expressions. Rhodes was also a strong partner to Victoria Hulland who danced the role of Liberty Bell in their pas de deux. Rhodes’ variation was spot on where he soared in the air with cabrioles and three double-knee saut de basques. Hulland also pulled off some technically difficult steps in her variation with a series of three développé à la seconde fondue pirouettes that ended with a salute and an a manèges that consisted of jeté à la seconde into pirouette en dedans.
Elizabeth Sykes led the first regiment of sassy Corcoran Cadets with her baton through a series of tricky formations and kick lines. Kristianne Kleine led the rifle regiment where they performed multiple emboîtés and can-can kicks where they tapped the tips of their toes. The ballet ends with great fanfare in the finale with the entire cast of all the regiments performing a kick line while the American Flag rises on the backdrop.