Sarasota Ballet’s “Season Opener” certainly started off the season in the right direction. The choreography, costumes, dancing and lights evoked a smile that remained plastered on this critic’s face throughout the entire evening. The true joy resulted from two of the three pieces on the program — Ricardo Graziano’s “Shostakovich Suite” and Matthew Hart’s “Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Fantasy.”
This weekend’s performances proved that principal dancer Graziano is a prize gem in the Sarasota Ballet’s treasure box. Director Iain Webb might want to go run out and purchase a giant lock. Not only is Sarasota Ballet fortunate to have a male danseur of his technical prowess and commanding performance presence, as he demonstrated in Hart’s “Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Fantasy” as Tchaikovsky, but his choreographic talents could make someone like renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon shake in his ballet shoes.
Drawing on inspiration from George Balanchine’s large-scale, plot-less, neoclassical ballets such as “Divertimento No. 15,” “Theme and Variations,” “Symphony in C,” and “Jewels” (and surely being immersed in performances of Balanchine’s “Diamonds” influenced this), Graziano demonstrated that he, like Balanchine, has great musicality, and his choreography naturally emphasized long lines and clean technique in each and every dancer. The gorgeous pink-and-black tutus designed by Bill Fenner further accentuated the dancers’ flawless performance.
Naturally, being a member of the company also gave Graziano the expert knowledge of his colleagues’ strengths, and he used it to both his and the dancers’ advantages by incorporating those strengths in the choreography. For example, Miguel Piquer is an expert turner. Graziano showcased his abilities during the men’s dance, during which Piquer completed excellent pirouette and tour en l’air sequences.
Graziano also demonstrated the differences in style and abilities among the three principal female dancers in their variations. He showcased Kate Honea’s athleticism with a series of jumps. Victoria Hulland’s port de bras was highlighted during bourrées, and Danielle Brown pulled off multiple pirouettes.
These differences and strengths were emphasized again in Brown’s fluid and lyrical pas de deux with Ricardo Rhodes, while Hulland remained elegant with Ricki Bertoni in a pas de deux, which contained smooth attitude and arabesque promenades. Honea and Piquer pulled off the harder tricks in the finale, with Honea performing fouettés and Piquer doing grande pirouette à la seconde.
The entire piece was a fabulous spectacle to behold with numerous complicated formations giving the ballet a beautiful 4D-effect that ended with a fabulous three-tiered pose at the end. Bravo.
Hart’s “Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Fantasy” was also an excellent production that brought the classic Tchaikovsky story ballets, “Sleeping Beauty,” “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker,” to life with a charming, comedic storyline that involved its composer, Tchaikovsky, himself, who was danced, as previously mentioned, by Graziano.
Tchaikovsky aims to help each of his main characters avoid the plight that befalls them in their respective ballets, but ends up creating chaos, which eventually turns into happily ever after in the end.
This piece was fantastic and incredibly entertaining to watch, but that might not have happened if it were not for the tremendous right-on casting done by Hart.
“The Sleeping Beauty” cast was decidedly different with each of the leads having expert acting abilities and sly, comedic skills. The spritely Sara Sardelli was terrific as Aurora along with her perfectly matched prince Florimund, Logan Learned. The ever-expressive Emily Dixon was excellent as the Lilac Fairy. Honea stole the show as Carabosse.
Christine Peixoto and Jamie Carter were always graceful, and the sinister drama displayed by Rita Duclos as Odile was definitely welcomed (as well as her evil-counterpart Rothbart danced by Piquer) in the “Swan Lake” section. Finally, in “The Nutcracker,” Elizabeth Sykes was simply sweet as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Caitlin Kirschenbaum was a definite standout as Clara.
Students from the Sarasota Ballet School rounded out the cast performing as the swans in “Swan Lake” and the mice and solders in “The Nutcracker.”
Also performed on the bill was Peter Darrell’s “Othello,” which was first performed by the Sarasota Ballet in 2010. This version of “Othello” combines classical choreography combined with more contemporary modern movements and hand gestures. The cast performed the piece with ease. Most notable was Piquer as the evil Iago and Amy Wood as a tortured Emelia. Unfortunately for this piece, it was definitely overshadowed by the larger productions of “Shostakovich Suite” and “Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Fantasy.”