Sarasota Ballet keeps the laughs coming with Antony Tudor's satirical 'Gala Performance.'
People have long lauded the value of laughter. It’s been called the best medicine. Poet Robert Frost even proposed that without it, we would all go insane. This holds true in the ballet world, too.
This Friday, Nov. 18, the Sarasota Ballet presents “Balanchine, Ashton and Tudor,” a program consisting of George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” with choreography telling the story of the Greek god of music and his visit with the three muses; Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Sinfonietta,” a challenging, abstract ballet; and finally, Antony Tudor’s “Gala Performance,” a laugh-out-loud satirical ballet that pits three diva ballerinas from different countries — and styles — against one another in a skirmish for the spotlight.
Kate Honea portrays the French ballerina, a ditzy, bubbly dancer who loves nothing more than embellishment; Kristianne Kleine plays the Russian ballerina, a ham who takes pride in her strength and virtuosity; and Amy Wood plays the Italian ballerina, a haughty, elegant performer who’s well aware of her beauty — and is just a little bored with it all.
Tudor premiered the piece in 1938 in London as a statement about conflicting approaches to ballet, and it grew to be an iconic comedic ballet, tackling stereotypes and questioning rigidity and convention in the art form.
Its presentation by the Sarasota Ballet, in its 26th season and under the leadership of Director Iain Webb in his 10th year, marks a continuation of Webb’s integration of comic ballet into the company’s repertoire, which audiences have come to expect.
We recently sat down with the three dancers behind this trio of warring egos to see what it’s like to flex their acting skills, the demands of the performance and what role comedy plays in the world of ballet.
Kleine: “My character, the Russian ballerina, is very no-one-gets-in-my-way. She’s a ham to the audience, but she’s kind of evil to everyone else around her. She thinks she’s hot stuff.”
Honea: “My character, the French ballerina, arrives next. She’s kind of ditzy — she’s like Champagne bubbles. She’s very bubbly and full of energy.”
Wood: “The character I play is Italian. She’s very refined and elegant and a little too aware of it. She’s very still and poker-faced and a little bored. She’s done a million of these.”
Honea: “One of the best parts about this is the bows for each ballerina. Tudor really decided to embellish them, and they’re all hysterical in their own way. For me, they’re more exhausting than the rest of the dance. I have to continue being so bubbly. I run on and bow three different times. I’m exhausted by the end.”
Wood: “It keeps it interesting to do this ballet again. We might decide to do something a little different this time around to keep it fun — small things — maybe this time, there’s an extra look thrown in there, or a raised eyebrow or extra blown kiss.”
Kleine: “Aside from the comedy, a lot of the steps are very physically challenging and hard technically. When you add the Tudor style, which has a lot of bends, turns and jumps, it becomes really demanding. But those things are part of the characters and what makes it funny.”
Wood: “Making the joke read to the audience can be a challenge. That’s not something we get in our technical training. We can do a pirouette perfectly, but it’s a whole different skill to be able to make a joke read. Sometimes, it’s just having a person at the front of the room to say, ‘That didn’t quite work; try this,’ or ‘Keep your eyes up.’ It’s up to us to use that feedback to come up with what our individual characters will be.”
Honea: “The comedy of this ballet is what makes it so different. Portraying the diva characters is the best part. None of us are actually like that, so to get to play that diva and be a little bit ridiculous and milk your bows — it’s actually really fun.”
Kleine: “This is the most theatrical ballet in the program and the only one with a large set with a backdrop and scenery. It’s also the first time we’re performing it with live music, which will add another layer. People can expect pure entertainment. There will be unexpected things that catch them off guard — they’ll be laughing out loud, for sure.”