Sarasota Ballet preps for world premiere of 'A Comedy of Errors'
How do you perform Shakespeare without words? For the Sarasota Ballet, it's a matter of the proper setting, costuming, music and their tongue planted firmly in their cheek.
| 2:20 p.m. March 11, 2022
Arts + Culture
The choreography is down. The score and the costumes are impeccable.
The only mystery left for the Sarasota Ballet is whether the audience will laugh along with them at "A Comedy of Errors."
David Bintley’s full-length ballet adaptation of the Shakespeare classic is gearing up for its world premiere in Sarasota, and the dancers are priming for their final rehearsals. Bintley, waiting to see his creation brought to life, isn’t worried about bringing Shakespeare to the stage without words. But he is curious to see how the crowd will warm to it.
“This is a strange piece because it will feed off audience reaction. We get three shots the first time around,” he says. “We won’t be able to develop things and say, ‘They laughed at this bit but not that bit.’ That comes with many performances.
"We just have to trust and believe that what we’re doing will be fun. But for me sitting out there, I will be listening to every single person around me trying to work out whether it’s working and whether they’re laughing."
For Bintley, the former artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, this isn’t anything new.
He choreographed 10 full-length ballets during his time with the Birmingham company, and he even brought Shakespeare to the stage with a ballet production of "The Tempest."
But with "A Comedy of Errors," he wanted to go in a different direction. His newest Shakespeare adaptation is set in modern times and in Ibiza, and the cast is dressed in contemporary clothing instead of traditional ballet costumes.
The whole production, says Bintley, revolves around an original score developed by composer Matthew Hindson.
Bintley and Hindson have worked together before on a pair of short ballet programs, and the choreographer said the composer’s musical sensibilities provided a strong foundation.
“He said he wanted to something big; He was really keen to do a long piece. So we thought about ideas and some were right but nothing really gelled,” says Bintley. “And then 'Comedy of Errors' just came into my head, and I thought: ‘I want this to be set in Ibiza. I want a rave in it. I want salsa. I want modern pop music to surround the whole piece.’
"The last six months that I’ve had the music, all I’ve been thinking is, 'I hope I can do this score justice.'"
Now it’s almost out of Bintley’s hands. He still has time to go over the material with the performers, but when showtime arrives, he’ll be tapping his toes in nervous anticipation.
The cast, which has worked on the performance intermittently since the beginning of the season, is excited to see how everything will work. Danielle Brown says she loves full-length performances because she gets to stay in character from beginning to end.
“You get to be this one person and live their life from start to finish,” she says. “In a triple-bill, you’re three different people, and you have to switch costumes and tone and style in like 15 minutes. It just feels different when you can ride the wave of one person, one story, one character for one evening. You really get lost in the story and who you’re playing.”
For Arcadian Broad, "A Comedy of Errors" is a project he’s been looking forward to for months.
Much like Brown, he says that full-length ballets are his favorite because he loves to tell stories, and he relishes the challenge of trying to channel Shakespeare's famous dialogue through dance.
“It’s definitely very character-driven,” he says of the production. “The thing with ballet is you’re telling these stories through the vehicle of body language and movement. There’s a lot of complexity with these characters, and there’s a lot of running around and getting from person to person in terms of plot line. The acting and our body language, I think, is probably more important for this show than the actual dance steps. I almost see the dancing as the little sprinkle on top.”
The dancing, like the music, will cut across genres, and it’s designed to make the audience feel like they might be out on the town with the characters. Bintley said he liked the idea of taking dancers the audience is familiar with and dressing them in casual clothing that evokes a night at the club with their friends as opposed to the traditional ballet garb.
“Luckily, it’s a contemporary piece,” he says. "So if we suddenly find we’re a costume short, we can just pop around Macy’s and buy something. It’s not like it’s a Renaissance piece.”
And the costuming also has another function. Brown says that the clothing and the island setting of Ibiza should remind the audience of Sarasota; it’s a warm climate, and a couple scenes will be based around a beach and a pool.
Does she have any favorite scenes? Brown says she loves a pas de deux that she will perform with Ricardo Graziano, but many of her favorite scenes are ones she doesn’t dance in.
“There’s a flamenco scene I just think is amazing,” she says. “There’s a workout scene. There’s just so many scenes that are so funny and clever in the way he built them. … I think (the audience) is going to laugh really hard because I’m laughing off to the side.”
And what if they don’t? Will the performers be able to feel it?
Broad says that he loves comedic ballet, but the truth is you won’t really know what’s funny until you’re on stage performing.
“Every crowd is different, and you totally feed of who’s sitting in front of you,” he says. “You can rehearse the thing over and over and expect a laugh out of a certain part. Then all of a sudden it’s silent and you’re sitting there like, ‘Ta-da! Laugh with me. Laugh at me.’ … It’s going to be really cool to see what people react to and ride that wave of energy with them.”
Bintley says he is not sure where "A Comedy of Errors" will go from here.
He originally thought he might stage the production in Australia, but then he saw a performance in Sarasota a couple years ago and was struck with how the performers might be perfect for his material. He’s still driving the hard work of priming the dancers for their performance, and he knows there will be a lot of things to iron out in the last three days of rehearsal.
“It’s such a long time since I’ve had to dance in a premiere. I’ve forgotten how,” he says. “My legs are usually jelly, and I don’t know how dancers get up there and do it on opening night.”
From Brown and Broad’s perspective, a little bit of nerves are a good thing. Broad says he uses his excitement to fuel his performance, and Brown says she’s been a little nervous probably every time she’s taken the stage as a professional.
“I actually like it when the audience responds to what you’re doing,” she says. “Sometimes you can feel, ‘Oh gosh, their energy is low.’ They’re not here with you, and you can feel like, ‘Gosh, what am I missing?’ But when you get that good reaction — when they laugh or they get involved audibly — it’s amazing, and it makes you feel like we’re onto something here.”
“I’m super pumped,” adds Broad. “You’ve put in all this work and all this energy and creativity into a short weekend. So you’ve got to make the best of it and hope that in the future you can do it more. Because it deserves it. Not just for the performers but for the creatives and the whole team. For the audience. We’re just going to have a great time.”