BWW Review: POETRY AND LIBERTY at Sarasota Ballet
Sarasota Ballet once again wowed their audience with two contrasting and dazzling pieces titled Poetry and Liberty, Ashton's somber Apparitions and Balanchine's patriotic Stars and Stripes, delivering exquisite footwork, sensational costumes and inspired staging and lighting.
Plagued by several setbacks, Sarasota's audience has been waiting 2 years for Sarasota Ballet's revival of Apparitions to come to life onstage. The company now has the distinction of being the first American company to perform this work, which has not been seen for over three decades. Daunting tasks, impossible odds and labors of love come under the capable direction of Iain Webb who fervently believes in his passion for, "my crusade to bring Sir Fred's works back to the forefront of ballet."
Ashton created Apparitions in 1936 featuring 16-year-old Margot Fonteyn, who soon became his inspiration for works to come, and launched her resplendent career. The Sarasota Orchestra under the baton of guest conductor Ormsby Wilkins undergirded the production with Franz Liszt's amorous orchestration that offered a soothing respite infused into this rather dark narrative.
At curtain rise we find The Poet (Marcelo Gomes) at his desk, anguishing in his study, diligently trying to write a piece in which he is struggling to complete. He crumbles page after page, tossing them to the floor in frustration of his uninspired work. His understated desk with a few necessities, a lamp, paper and quill, are diminutive in proportion to his massive ballroom adjacent to the study, prominently displaying three towering arches and sandwiched between an extensive library of books. Grant Coyle's staging reigns supreme.
At one point The Poet's agony overtakes him and he grasps for what looks to be a letter opener or dagger. We are lead to feel he is going to end his misery right there and then. Instead he partakes the contents of a small bottle, a tincture of opium, and the nightmare begins. His quest to find his love is now tainted with distortion and non-sensible apparitions moving him from one tragically disjointed scenario to another. As he approaches the archways of his ballroom the windows reveal a Woman in the Ball Dress (Victoria Hulland), The Hussar (Richard House) and The Monk (Jamie Carter). The Woman in the Ball Dress represents his muse, his inspiration, his always-unattainable l'Amour Supreme, always present in some form, yet ever elusive.
In his opiate-fueled stupor, the audience is paired with The Poet to witness his macabre nightmare. In the ballroom we are introduced to Ladies of Fashion and Officers & Gentlemen who performed beautiful dance moves in official uniforms amongst bursts of pastel dresses. He dances with his muse but cannot contain her. He finds others in his arms throughout the dance but continues to look for her. We move on to a snow clad plain where Belfry Spirits in black and white flowing dresses show off feathered headdresses and scurry in the madness to taunt The Poet. The Procession slowly passes by providing a somber scene amongst the frenzy. When The Poet peels back the cloth draped over the corpse, it reveals the body of The Woman in the Ball Dress. His beloved is dead. His torture continues.
We then find ourselves in The Cavern. Its brilliant red glow makes it look hot. Perhaps we are in Hell or are at least feeling the hell The Poet is going through. Red-robbed menaces mock him as he joins them in their delirium. There his love appears again but this time she wears a mask hiding her beauty and taunting him further.
In the Epilogue we are back in The Poet's study where he awakens, returns to his desk, and clenches the sharp object that can end his misery. A stab to the chest expires his tortured soul. The Procession now comes for him in their ominous yet regal purple robes. As they form a human pyramid on each side, The Poet 's lifeless body is raised outstretched completing the top of the pyramid. The stage goes black. The final scene was so dramatic you could hear gasps from the audience, then a thunderous applause, and long-standing ovation. It's a scene I won't forget for a very long time.
The Poet places Gomes in a lead role that demands an equal balance of acting and dancing. I found him to be a confident Thespian while performing the fancy footwork we have all come to know and appreciate. Victoria Hulland as The Woman in the Ball Dress was fluid and alluring. Her backbends alone were breathtaking. This is one of the ballets that I found beautifully haunting long after I left the theatre. I kept revisiting flashes of still visuals that stood out and captured my attention.
Balanchine's Stars and Stripes was quite the polar opposite of Apparitions. I've never seen a "patriotic ballet" danced to John Phillip Sousa, of all people. I wasn't as skeptical as I was curious to see how they were going to pull this off. I equate ballet to grace, soft lines, flowing and sweeping movements and romantic or dramatic layers of music. But Sousa? Marching?
I didn't know how a ballet company would choreograph dancing a march to Sousa and not lose the elegance of the craft. I did know this. If any company could pull this off, it would be the one living my own neck of the woods, and I live in a very talented neck of the woods.
Stars and Stripes is Balanchine's homage to the United States and it got off to a firecracker of a beginning. Upbeat tempo, emboldened colors, cheerful faces and grand high-stepping dance moves immediately brought out the patriot in all of us.
The ballet, set in five campaigns, proudly displayed the entire ballet company. What a delight to see so many of them in such an energetic production. Their "eye-high kicks " alone would make The Rockettes jealous. Showcasing Elizabeth Sykes, Kate Honea, Katelyn May, Ricardo Rhodes, Ivan Duarte in each campaign was a tribute to the corps and the strength of their performance, finesse and technique. They retained the grace of ballet while infusing intricate dance steps, line kicks, baton twirling and the biggest American flag back drop that made you want to stand and salute. What an awesome rush of patriotism at a time we need it the most.