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Renowned for its proficiency in dancing Sir Frederick Aston’s works, it comes as no surprise that Sarasota Ballet’s Digital Fall Season 2020 launches with a program dedicated solely to the master’s ballets. Director Iain Webb has curated a program composed of a wonderful medley that shows off the company’s talent and the choreographer’s diversity; it’s a win-win in both regards for viewers who are already ardent fans and those who are catching their first glimpse.

And what better way to start things off than Yuki Nonaka‘s charming smile and clean quintuple pirouettes. “Les Patineurs” is an Ashton staple that fills the theater (this performance was filmed at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts) – and your home – with Giacomo Meyerbeer’s dynamic music, vibrant costumes, and ice skating ballet dancers.

The mood shifts dramatically as the white unitard and cap clad Ricardo Graziano, Ellen Overstreet, and Ricardo Rhodes dance what is one of the most beautiful trios I have ever seen. “Monotones II” takes the viewer on a serene celestial journey set to an Erik Satie composition. The synchronicity of the three dancers in musicality, épaulement, and sensitive disposition is simply mesmerizing. Pas de trois often contain momentary lapses of continuity when two are dancing together and the other is left seemingly doing his or her own thing; yet Ashton manages to keep all three visually united even when they are not doing the same choreography.

We are witness again to Rhodes’ wonderful partnering skills in the “Meditation from Thaïs” pas deux with Katelyn May. The pair received virtual coaching from Sir Anthony Dowell (this footage can be seen in the bonus content included with the performance!) for whom the ballet was originally created almost half a century ago and gracefully apply the valuable insight he gives them. The result is a seamless series of weightless lifts and May’s beautiful bourées as they convey the emotion of the violins’ aching strings. 

“La chatte métamorphosée en femme” is as eccentric as the name suggests – “The cat transformed into a woman” – and is inspired by the Jacques Offenbach opera of the same title. Kate Honea delivers, clearly invested in embracing her feline facets.

Similar to the experience I had watching Pacific Northwest Ballet’s opening program of their season, the strictly classical ballet repertoire seems weaker compared to their more neoclassical counterparts. Marijana Dominis is particularly reserved (nervous?) as Aurora in “The Sleeping Beauty” Vision solo. And Overstreet and Graziano as the title characters in the Balcony pas de deux from “Romeo and Juliet” take a while before they really seem devoted – to their roles and to each other.

Dominis seems much more at ease doing the Tango – Paso Doble section of “Façade”, a comedic ballet that amuses with its display of ballroom dances performed in cheeky exaggeration.

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