The Sarasota Ballet’s performance of ballets all choreographed by Knights of the British Order, one of which was an American premiere, was an exceptional evening full of challenging choreography, stunning sets and costumes and live music.
Three new pieces were added to Sarasota Ballet’s repertoire this past weekend when the ballet performed the works of three great knights — Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s “Concerto,” Sir Peter Wright’s “Summertide” and Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Marguerite and Armand.” The performances at the Sarasota Opera House were accompanied by the Sarasota Orchestra led by American Ballet Theatre Conductor Ormsby Wilkins.
The program was a revival of sorts, bringing back the lost “Summertide,” which Wright created on Sarasota Ballet Assistant Director and Repetiteur Margaret Barbieri for the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet. “Marguerite and Armand,” which Ashton created for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, made history with this being its U.S. debut.
“Concerto” is a plotless, neoclassical ballet that echoes the likes of Balanchine’s works of the same time period in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The ballet features a large cast of 35 dancers who are costumed in simple costumes (women — leotards and short skirts, men — unitards) in shades of blue, turquoise and lavender that embellished the newly created designs by Lady Deborah MacMillan.
Set to Dmitri Shostakovitch’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” the ballet opens with a lively first movement featuring Elizabeth Sykes and Alex Harrison who perform multiple pirouettes and fast chaînés into grand jetés and lifts. Edward Gonzalez was ever the strong partner, lifting Ellen Overstreet in slow pressing lifts during the sensual and slow pas de deux in the second movement. At one point, Gonzalez grabs Overstreet’s extended foot in a développé à la seconde and flips her over his back into an arabesque lift.
Wright’s “Summertide” follows a similar structure to “Concerto” with three movements: the first movement a bright and vibrant piece, followed by a slower second movement and culminating with a high-energy finale with the entire cast. Set to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” the ballet features a gorgeous billowing-cloud like backdrop with gold accents designed by Dick Bird. Bird’s costume designs were brilliantly hand-painted dresses and unitards by Bill Fenner.
Ricardo Rhodes owned the first movement with his machismo, strong technique and bright smile. Samantha Benoit and Kate Honea were almost identical with similar sprightly styles and quick rhythms. In the second movement, Danielle Brown’s pas de deux with Rhodes was supported by the additions of Jamie Carter and Joshua Stayton, each man transitioning Brown from one amazing lift to another more amazing lift.
“Marguerite and Armand," set to Franz Liszt’s “Piano Sonata in B minor,” was a stunning, dramatic piece. Cecil Beaton’s set designs and costumes, brought to life by Doug Nicholson, were extravagant yet elegant and at the same time representing the luxurious and ornamental lifestyle of 19th century Paris. Victoria Hulland danced the role of courtesan Marguerite, who is plagued with an eminent young death from consumption. Ricardo Graziano danced the role of Armand, the young suitor who captures her attention. The pair was incredibly passionate and emotionally raw in their roles, demonstrating their excellent dramatic abilities. The pair almost brought the audience to real tears (including this critic) during the death scene when Graziano literally wept on stage for his dead partner. Bravo.