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The Sarasota Ballet: Summer 2018

An opportunity to see works by English master Sir Frederick Ashton.

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Victoria Hulland, Ricardo Graziano and Ricardo Rhodes in a scene from Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Monotones II” (Photo credit: Frank Atura)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

While there isn’t exactly a glut of ballet troupes in the United States, it is often difficult to tell one from another.  Sometimes it seems like a small band of choreographers with like ideas—seas of amorphous angst, roughly danced romantic liaisons and lots of bare-chested men—supply the repertories of most of these companies. Therefore, it is important to find a reason to exist and a way to be noticed.

The Sarasota Ballet, under the direction of Iain Webb, a former leading dancer with the Royal Ballet, has, to the benefit of the dance world, been collecting works by the British master choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton.  Even Ashton’s artistic home base rarely performs his work, despite the fact that that troupe’s elevation from Sadler’s Wells Ballet to Royal Ballet was largely due to Ashton’s efforts.  (The troupe’s repertory also includes works by Ashton’s contemporaries, such as Antony Tudor, Dame Ninette de Valois, Agnes de Mille and Michel Fokine.)

This short season at the Joyce Theater Sarasota is performing Ashton’s “Monotones I & II” on every program and, on Program B this weekend, a divertissement of shorter, rarely-seen Ashton tidbits.

“Monotones,” sharing the first program with ballets by contemporary dance makers, is Ashton’s attempt to abandon his lushly emotional style with a coolly elegant sculptural approach to the music, in this instance the well-known Erik Satie “Trois Gnossiennes & Trois Gymnopédies” (played live, with a quiet intensity, by Cameron Grant).

Ryoko Sadoshima, Samantha Benoit and Alex Harrison in a scene from Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Monotones I” (Photo credit: Frank Atura)

In “Monotones I,” two women, Ryoko Sadoshima and Samantha Benoit, bookend a man, Thomas Giugovaz, in slow walks, rises onto the toes and some slow, controlled partnering.  Rounded arms and soft attitudes (bent legs raised to the back), exaggerated connecting steps (such as glissades) were coolly performed as well as subtle twists of the torso marking subtle changes in the score.  In “Monotones II” two men, Ricardo Graziano and Ricardo Rhodes put one woman, Victoria Hulland, through her paces, lifting her leg into a split, twisting her in the air and otherwise taking advantage of her virtuosic pliability.  The six dancers were technically fine, but haven’t quite learned how to stop thinking about the flawless classical ballet technique which is the vocabulary of this work and concentrate on the meditative nature of the music.

Despite “Monotones’” attempts at modernism, it still has its feet firmly back in the Diaghilev era with its glittery caps and shiny costume details that Ashton used on his otherwise simple white unitards.  The choreography is closer to the old-fashioned plastique of Massine than to the abstract artistry of Merce Cunningham.

Ricardo Rhodes and Sara Scherer in a scene from Ricardo Graziano’s “Symphony of Sorrows” (Photo credit: Frank Atura)

Ricardo Graziano, who graced the Ashton ballet with his dancing, and is now the Sarasota Ballet’s resident choreographer, provided the aptly titled ballet “Symphony of Sorrows.” Danced to a dreary score by Henryk Gorecki, “Symphony No. 3, Movement No. 3” Graziano examined how grief affects five couples (Elizabeth Sykes & Ricki Bertoni, Kate Honea & Nicolas Moreno, Amy Wood & Weslley Carvalho, Christine Windsor & Ricardo Rhodes and Victoria Hulland & Jamie Carter).  At first, the ten gather in a group, trailed by Ms. Wood who seems reluctant to find comfort in the others.  As each couple dances, they display different takes on strong emotions, from anger to defeat to alienation, all brilliantly illuminated by Graziano’s choreography.  At the end, Ms. Wood joins the departing mourners.

Wearing Bill Fenner’s black outfits—the men bare-chested—and lit lugubriously by Aaron Muhl, the women in the cast tended to take the most punishment for some reason—pushed, pulled, lifted and twirled by the men who took their dark feelings out on their partners.  Why the women couldn’t be more forceful and less masochistic is a question that crossed my mind more than once. Although his steps were beautifully danced, Graziano might have widened his spectrum of emotions.

Christopher Wheeldon, an in-demand choreographer, provided “There Where She Loved,” danced to music, including songs, composed by Chopin and Kurt Weill, a work originally produced for the Royal Ballet.  The score was performed live by Mr. Grant on the piano and two rich-voiced sopranos, Michelle Giglio and Stella Zambalis.

Ricardo Graziano and Amy Wood in Christopher Wheeldon’s “There Where She Loved” (Photo credit: Frank Atura)

Holly Hynes provided flowing pale dresses of various lengths for the women and dark pants and long-sleeved shirts for the men (which, as if to prove my opening statement, were eventually removed) while Aaron Muhl’s lighting showed more of his capacity to create mood and color.

Once more the women get the short end of the romantic stick whether it was four men harshly courting one woman in the opening section, “Zyczenie (The Wish)” or one man (Ricardo Rhodes) playing a second-rate Don Juan with four women, in “Hulank (Merrymaking).”  Katelyn May dances a tentative, sad solo to “Gdzie Lubi (There Where She Loved).”  The work ended on an unresolved, but daring, note with a duet for Ms. Wood and Mr. Graziano grappling prettily and then leaping about.  Although individual sections are well constructed “There Where She Loved” didn’t gel as a statement about love and romance.

The Sarasota Ballet should consider presenting at least one all-Ashton program in its next New York season, but this young troupe is always a welcome addition to the New York dance scene.

The Sarasota Ballet (August 14-19, 2018)

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org

Running time: 95 minutes including two intermissions

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (275 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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