Sarasota Ballet dancers departed SRQ Airport Monday, June 3, to head to Washington, D.C. They shared the giddy kind of excitement you might get seeing snow for the first time. Appropriately enough, the dancers’ performance, “Les Patineurs,” is set at a snow-filled, Victorian-era, skating party.
The company was invited to perform at the Kennedy Center among the top companies in the nation in “Ballet Across America III” — sharing three performances in a bill that would also feature Washington Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet from June 4 through June 9.
For former D.C. resident Ellen Overstreet, in her first season with the company, it was a lot like coming home; although, instead of to her childhood home, she’d share a room with Sareen Tchekmedyian at State Plaza Hotel — the same hotel Pennsylvania Ballet was also staying. The dancers returned to the hotel only to put their heads on their pillows after days full of sightseeing, class and rehearsals.
“I grew up watching major companies perform at the opera house, and now I’m on the other side (of the stage),” Overstreet says. “So it’s a dream come true.”
The dancers would wake up early, go sightseeing and then take dance class with members of the companies with whom they would perform. In the evenings, they would go out to eat (a few even went to Overstreet’s parents’ house for a family dinner). The dancers dressed up for a Wednesday night cast-member party, and reunited with friends from companies they had danced with before Sarasota Ballet. The day of opening night, they’d have 50 minutes on the stage for a dress rehearsal of their performance. The dancers shared feelings of excitement mixed with nerves.
“They were all incredible,” Overstreet says of the companies she had already seen. “I feel like we’re all kind of alike — we’re all great companies with really strong dancers.”
But, it seems Sarasota Ballet gracefully skated its way into the audience’s heart as a crowd favorite. Sarasota Ballet Managing Director Mary Anne Servian says some of the staff at The Kennedy Center told them not to expect much from the usually reserved crowd — they are a tough audience.
“But, from the moment the curtain went up, there was applause,” Servian says.
And according to the reviews in The Washington Post and The New York Times, which the dancers only discovered upon their arrival back home — it was Sarasota Ballet that left the biggest impression — the “jewel” of Ballet Across America, and this summer’s “winter miracle.”
The Nation’s Ballet Talent, From Pliant to Virtuosic
“ … A perfect example of the value of Ballet Across America is the contribution this year by Sarasota Ballet from Florida …
“At the Kennedy Center on Saturday, it danced Ashton’s endearing 1937 masterpiece “Les Patineurs,” in which the innocent sweetness of a Christmas-card view of a Victorian skating rink bursts into three-dimensional vitality and complex virtuosity. William Chappell’s original designs rightly won a burst of applause from the audience: their depth, detail and color still enchant. The company danced this ballet well when I saw it in Sarasota in December 2008 — and what was good has now developed into the marvelous.
“This ‘Patineurs’ is a miracle of style. Hard to believe though this sounds, the dancers perform it with an understanding that surpasses the Royal Ballet’s and with a warmth that makes its charm breathe from within. The dancer’s physicality communicates itself to you. You feel as if you’re participating.
“Logan Learned— nimble, engaging, small pliant, precise — was already superb in the work’s central role of the Blue Boy in 2008: now he’s a wonder. Kate Honea and Nicole Padilla are the splendid Blue Girls: their series of turns rightly win applause, but so does their first entrance, doggedly digging their points into the floor like ice picks. But the excellence shines right through the White Couple, the Red Girls and the Brown Couples … ”
Dance critic for the New York Times Alastair Macauly, had this to say in his article “The Nation’s Ballet Talent, From Pliant to Virtuosic” June 9, 2013:
Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America: ‘Les Patineurs’ and ‘Wunderland’
“ … ‘Les Patineurs,’ the infectiously uplifiting ice-skating ballet by Frederick Ashton that, with a fresh, bighearted performance by the Sarasota Ballet, ensured its place as the jewel of this year’s “Ballet Across America” sampler of regional companies …
“The final irony of the success of ‘Les Patineurs’ is this: At $3.7* million, Sarasota Ballet has the tiniest budget of the nine companies in this installment of ‘Ballet Across America.’ And Webb, who arrived in Sarasota six years ago, is one of the directors with the shortest tenures. His achievement, and that of his dancers, is nothing short of miraculous. Call ‘Les Patineurs’ a miracle on ice.”
Dance critic for The Washington Post Sarah Kaufman, had this to say in her article, “Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America: ‘Les Patineurs’ and ‘Wunderland.’” From the Washington Post.
*The actual budget is $2.6 million