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DANCE REVIEW: 'Serenade,' 'Illuminations' and 'Who Cares?'

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 25, 2013
The Sarasota Ballet performed George Balanchine's "Serenade."
The Sarasota Ballet performed George Balanchine's "Serenade."
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Iain Webb continues to wow with his thoughtful programming for the season. The official kick-off performance to the 2013-2014 season featured two of George Balanchine’s most famous works — “Serenade” and “Who Cares?” — and the first ballet that Sir Frederick Ashton choreographed for the New York City Ballet (Balanchine’s company) in 1950, “Illuminations.” But Webb’s attention to detail doesn’t stop there … It also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Benjamin Britten who composed the music for “Illuminations.”

But maybe even more important is the fact that the dancers of the Sarasota Ballet, each and every single one of them, continue to really wow. If there ever were a perfect performance, this one would be it. It’s no surprise that the Sarasota Ballet is now attracting audience members like Merrill Ashley, one of the most famous Balanchine ballerinas.

This performance began with Balanchine’s “Serenade,” which he originally choreographed for the students of the School of American Ballet (where Ashley was trained and eventually taught after retirement). The second the curtain raises on this ballet the audience always erupts into oohs and aahs at the sight of the 17 women in floor-length, light-blue gowns posed with arms raised high. The girls eventually point their flexed hands and drape their arms over their foreheads as if in despair. Then they lower their arms down to lower first and flick their feet into first position. It’s amazing how powerful such a simple movement can be.

Kate Honea danced her heart out as the Russian Girl, one of the more technically challenging roles that includes multiple pirouettes, leaps, chaînés turns and allegro sequences. Amy Wood and Jamie Carter were stunning as the Dark Angels. And a surge of emotion was felt at the end of the ballet when the Waltz Girl, danced by Danielle Brown, falls to ground only to be lifted up by four men and carried off stage while she arched backwards.

Ashton’s “Illuminations” was quite the departure for Ashton. The Ashton style of dancing was all there, but the piece was quite psychedelic and probably scandalous at its premiere in 1950. To be perfectly honest, this Ashton piece isn’t my favorite, but the dancing was dynamite, nonetheless.

Ricardo Graziano was excellent as the tormented “Poet” who grappled between Sacred Love danced by Amy Wood and Profane Love danced by Ellen Overstreet, who was subsequently promoted to soloist at the end of the performance. Wood continues to display a more developed and refined technique with each role she takes on. Overstreet amazingly danced her role with one pointe shoe and one bare foot. With an amazing facility, Overstreet has incredible extensions and lines. However, her youth was hard to disguise in the more mature character role.

Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” is another audience favorite and a perfect way to close the show. The jazzy number set to musical favorites of George Gershwin is danced in front of a New York City skyline. The entire cast was spot on and bravo to all for their group dances, pas de deux and solos.

Making the evening even more special was the live music expertly played by the Sarasota Orchestra and conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, the music director for American Ballet Theatre. Another thrill was Tenor Matt Morgan’s beautiful singing in “Illuminations.”



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