Sarasota Ballet Love & Betrayal Review
January 28, 2022 | FSU Center for the Performing Arts – Sarasota, FL, USA
An eager, well-masked crowd gathered in Sarasota, Florida Friday night at The Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts to witness the determined, energetic performance of the Sarasota Ballet’s fourth program of the 21-22 season, Love and Betrayal.
The full program was cut short, according to Director Iain Webb “due to the impact of COVID-19 infections.” The scheduled third section, Johan Kobborg’s Napoli Act III, was omitted. In the notes, Webb expressed that amid the challenges of our times,
“…we have moments like this that remind us of why we do what we do.”
An engaged, delighted audience reminded the company of how much that artistic spirit is appreciated and valued with their committed applause following Dame Ninette de Valois’ The Rake’s Progress and Sir Fredrick Ashton’s Valses nobles et sentimentales.
Both British ballets were staged with almost half the normal time period. Still, Sarasota Ballet delivered two performances that clearly demonstrated the genuine collaboration and camaraderie that is grounded in the scholarly expertise of Webb and Assistant Director Margaret Barbieri.
Barbieri staged The Rake’s Progress. Webb and Barbieri staged the Ashton ballet. The couple leveraged, once again, their expertise and commitment to the craft of dance to rally an always-advancing company for a performance that carried on-lookers through a range of emotions.
Before the performance, Marketing Director Jason Ettore, in the Center’s foyer, greeted an audience who clearly knew him well. On this night, Ettore displayed his own gift from Webb in the Center’s front hall. The gift was a series of eight printings of the 1730s paintings by William Hogarth from which Dame de Valois based her six-scene tale of “the Rake”, Tom Rakewell. The displayed printings were flanked by two costumes, one of which was worn by Webb during his own performance in Valses for The Royal Ballet, the other, his wife’s “The Betrayed Girl” costume that she wore when she danced the role under Dame de Valois’ direction at The Royal Ballet.
Noting these connections seems important for a company that has nearly thirty Ashton ballets in its diverse repertoire and also features regular world premieres, including the upcoming A Comedy of Errors, set for March 25-26 this year, choreographed by Sir David Bintley with commissioned score by Matthew Hindson and designs by Dick Bird.
In short, this company is led by scholars, practitioners, performers and artists who are committed to preserving ballet’s past while keeping a keen, sentient and well-informed eye on the future.
A quick glance at the cast notes evidences the prior statement when one realizes that the principles switch roles between (a) the Friday/Saturday evening – Sunday matinee performances and (b) the Saturday matinee – Sunday/Monday evening performances.
That’s right. Opening night featured Ricardo Graziano (Principal and Choreographer) and Victoria Hulland (Principal) as “the Rake” and “The Betrayed Girl”. The second sequencing will feature Ricki Bertoni (Character Principal) and Danielle Brown (Principal) in the roles.
For Valses, Brown and Ricardo Rhodes (Principal) were featured leads on opening night, with the second sequencing to feature the popular pairing of Hulland and Graziano in the lead roles in the Aston ballet.
Ettore signaled these choices as part of the company’s ongoing mission to always expand the repertoire of the dancers. He also agreed with this reviewer that such bold changes in casting, even with short timelines, allow the audiences to see favorite performers deliver different roles with one program. Courageous choices like these are why more than one audience member shared that they often attend more than one performance to see how different dancers bring their characters to life on stage.
Further, engaging more dancers in the lead roles of these lesser-known ballets ensures the preservation of the choreography and subtle details acquired through the lived experiences of husband-and-wife team Webb and Barbieri. And the details came through in both ballets, via costumes, staging, and in many moments, real connection with the choreography.
Sarasota Ballet Love & Betrayal Trailer
For The Rake’s Progress, tension in movement was the most notable success. And the opening scenes, replete with intricate choreography, set the mood for that tension to build.
Costuming immediately landed the audience in Hogarth’s time period, faithful to Ashton’s intent in this fourth staging of the ballet for the Company.
And the twining and classical movements among the male dancers in the early scene were rather sharp in delivery, enhanced with steady, consistent facial expressions and eye-to-eye connection between dancers, details important in a narrative ballet.
Further, Hulland’s hand gestures were consistently pronounced by design, in particular, her repeated pattern of holding both hands down, her wrists facing upward, to signify her vulnerability. Thank you to Ettore for sharing this detail, one that stood out throughout Hulland’s performance. The tension in her movements was most fully realized in her solo sewing scene as she, the only dancer en pointe, made us believe she was pulling her thread with her needle.
However, her expressions did not always mirror the honesty or despair in her movements. Still, several moments of imagined action like the moments with the needle evoked earnest sentiments in the female character that counterbalanced the excesses of her chosen love, the Rake who descends into madness in Debtor’s Prison despite her attempts to change his ways.
After a 25-minute intermission, Ashton’s Valses began with certainty and deliberate early movements from paired male/female dancers donning dream-like costumes that immediately evoked splendor, excess and celebration. Long, full pink tulle made the four supporting femmes float through lifts and complex choreography that, for the most part, seemed an ethereal vision of a waltz in a world without worry. Their male counterparts were clad in rich burgundy costumes faithful to Webb’s design from the 1980s model on display in the front hall.
Rhodes, our Friday night male lead wore the same, distinguishing himself through an effortless series of lifts for female lead, Brown. Brown’s pink costume tied to his with an extra layer of the same burgundy, creating an extra layer of depth in the pairings between the two.
In early moments in which she was flanked by male counterparts on each side, she was the unity between two male forces; she was fluid and connected. But in moments alone, en pointe with hands raised, there was room for improvement in balance and delivery. However, her deft manipulation of her shoulders on three occasions caused this reviewer and others nearby in the audience to make audible approval of the grace she conveyed.
As this ballet was designed to evoke “…glamour, style and elegance in a Britain bankrupted by World War II and still dominated by austerity and rationing,” according to the notes, Sarasota Ballet more than delivered. How can one help but notice that almost two years into pandemic and supply chain shortages, many of us were eager to enjoy the same.
The grateful audience erupted in applause at the end of the Ashton ballet, an applause maintained beyond the presentation of roses to Brown and long after Barbieri joined her dedicated team on the stage to collect her own bouquet and offer farewell tidings to the crowd.
Tonight’s performance was not flawless, of course, but it was sincere and honest – well researched and well-rehearsed amid situations no one might have imagined two years ago. Tradition and the individual talent, to harken back to TS Eliot, met in Sarasota and reminded audience members why Webb and his company do what they do, indeed.
Remaining Love and Betrayal performances are Saturday, 2:00 and 7:30 p.m. / Sunday, 2:00 and 7:30 p.m., and Monday, 7:30 p.m. Limited seating is available online on Sarasota Ballet’s website.
Featured Photo of Victoria Hulland and Ricardo Graziano in Dame Ninette de Valois’ The Rake’s Progress. Photography by Frank Atura.
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