The final gala evening of the Sir Frederick Ashton Festival confirmed that the Sarasota Ballet is one of the premier ballet companies in the United States, if not internationally. Other than the Royal Ballet, the Sarasota Ballet dancers performed Ashton’s choreography as if they had been trained by the choreographic great himself. That is also true testament to the ballet’s leaders — Director Iain Webb and Assistant Director Margaret Barbieri — who have coached the dancers with the love and devotion clearly demonstrated by their admiration of “Sir Fred.”
The dancers, albeit surely exhausted from the intense week, performed with such passion and gusto as if they knew, just knew, how impeccably the entire week was going and, hopefully, reveling in the international recognition they had received — and more that is surely to come.
Director Iain Webb has reached for this international recognition and most certainly achieved it. Bravo, sir. Sarasota is lucky to have Webb for another 10 years. We can’t wait to see what’s to come.
The final evening of the festival opened with a reprisal of “Illuminations,” which is set to music by Benjamin Britten CBE and performed live with the Sarasota Orchestra conducted by Ormsby Wilkins along with the beautiful voice of tenor Matt Morgan. Dancing the lead role of The Poet, Ricardo Graziano seemed to dance this role with more fervor than previously. It was if the torment he was experiencing, while loving both Sacred Love danced by Amy Wood and Profane Love by Ellen Overstreet, was real. His emotions expressed at the betrayal by Profane Love when two officers shot him were purely tragic and emotionally raw.
The company performed five Divertissements, which were all equally impressive and enjoyable. However, “La Chatte” may have been an audience favorite. Kate Honea was absolutely incredible as a white fluffy cat that perfectly embodied the movements of lithe cat. From playfully pawing at the back of a chaise to her final meow at the end, she was captivating and hilarious.
Ellen Overstreet was seductive and elegant in “Jazz Calendar” while dancing in and out of a large red “O.” Standing in for Victoria Hulland in “The Awakening Pas de Deux” from “Sleeping Beauty,” Ryoko Sadoshima performed a technically clean pas de deux with Ricardo Rhodes with a lovely stage presence.
Edward Gonzalez was an expert partner of Danielle Brown in “’Meditation’ from Thaïs.” He kept her aloft during the pas de deux as if she floated on air. And Jessica Cohen and Ricardo Graziano were buoyant and precise in “Voices of Spring.”
One could not think this performance could get any better, but it did with “Les Patineurs.” This incredibly difficult ballet in choreography, technique, stamina and control was performed with effortless ease and the largest of smiles by the Sarasota Ballet dancers. Logan Learned stole the entire production with his impish personality and extraordinary tricks. From his multiple pirouettes, leaps, over-the-knee jumps, no-handed cartwheels to the many à la seconde chugs performed en tournant, Learned simply wowed as the Blue Boy.
His cohorts the Blue Girls, Nicole Padilla and Kate Honea, were equally impressive dancing in such sync that they seemed they were twins. The two closed out the show with incredible turning feats — Honea with a fast-paced piqué turn manèges and Padilla with 32 fouetté en tournants with double pirouettes in between.
This festival was a magnificent end to an excellent season for the Sarasota Ballet. One would think that Webb couldn’t create another season that could compare, but he can! Next season is also exciting with world premieres and more choreographic greats like Michel Folkine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Paul Taylor and Rudolf Nureyev and, of course, Ashton’s “La Fille mal Gardée.” We can’t wait!