The Sarasota Ballet performed another expertly planned triple-bill performance this past weekend featuring Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Birthday Offering,” Ricardo Graziano’s “Symphony of Sorrows” and Antony Tudor’s “Gala Performance.” The show was perfectly balanced with the right mix of classical ballet, contemporary dance and comedy.
Ashton’s “Birthday Offering” provided a tease of what is to come with the Sir Frederick Ashton Festival taking place April 30 to May 3. If you missed this show, “Birthday Offering” is on the bill for opening night of the Ashton Festival Wednesday, April 30, at the Sarasota Opera House. The ballet is a tribute to the Royal Ballet’s founder Dame Ninette de Valois, set to the music of Alexander Glazunov. The ballet’s sets and costumes are elaborate, with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling atop seven couples on stage — the women in elegant brocades and tiaras and the men in puffed-sleeved tunics.
The ballet consists of two full-cast mazurkas and waltzes with seven separate female solos portraying the leading ballerinas of the Royal Ballet in the late ’50s and a regal pas de deux. Nicole Padilla nailed the Elaine Fifield solo with perfect pirouette sequences. Amy Wood demonstrated control with precision in the Svetlana Beriosova solo. The Nadia Nerina solo had Kate Honea literally in the air the entire time with jumps and leaps. And Sareen Tchekmedyian never left the tips of her pointe shoes in the Beryl Grey solo performing hops, jumps and turns en pointe. Victoria Hulland mastered the quick pas de bourrée couru in the style of Margot Fonteyn and kept the style going in the pas de deux with Ricardo Graziano that included many difficult tour de promenades in attitude both en dedans and en dehors.
Graziano’s “Symphony of Sorrows” is an emotionally charged contemporary piece set to music by Henryk Górecki on a black-draped stage with floating globe lighting by Aaron Muhl. Bill Fenner’s black costumes are simple. The piece, which portrays how people react differently to death and the loss of a loved one, is based on mature feelings and emotions — it’s hard to believe that such a talented young man could express them through choreography. It’s no wonder that Director Iain Webb appointed Graziano as resident choreographer opening night for the 2014-2015 season. Emily Dixon and Wood, both exceptional classically trained ballet dancers, stood out in the piece in their separate duets, showing a more raw side and depth to their dancing.
Tudor’s “Gala Performance” was a real treat. Tudor satires the dance world and three particular styles — Russian, Italian and French — in this ballet that follows three prima ballerinas from each style from backstage before the curtain rises to the actual gala performance toward the turn of the 20th century. The entire cast of this piece was brilliant, both with their dancing technique and comedic acting abilities.
But the true divas of this ballet were those pretending to be ones — Kristianne Kleine as the Russian Ballerina, Hulland as the Italian Ballerina, and Honea as the French Ballerina. Kleine performed a mind-boggling amount of different turn sequences that included pirouettes and fouetté rond de jambe en tournant. Portraying the Russian technical masters, Kleine would scrunch up her face in intensity while performing these feats, then break into a smile as they were completed. Hulland was absolutely hysterical as the Italian ice queen who savored her entrance and exit with precise pointed steps and mastered balances in arabesque while she pushed her bouncy and smiley (and funny) cavalier, Edward Gonzalez, around. Honea was every bit of the sugary and sweet French ballerina sprightly bouncing around the stage with a wiggle of her head and a multitude of air kisses.