Program includes Paul Taylor’s ‘Brandenburgs,’ Frederick Ashton’s ‘Les Rendezvous’ and Dominic Walsh’s ‘I Napoletani.’
‘Redefined Movement’: Sarasota Ballet performs works by Paul Taylor, Frederick Ashton and Dominic Walsh. Reviewed Friday, FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Through Monday. 941-359-0099; sarasotaballet.org.
When Paul Taylor was asked about the impetus for his “Brandenburgs” — choreographed in 1988 to segments of Bach’s wildly popular “Brandenburg Concertos” — the seminal modern dance choreographer, a man of characteristically understated words, said, “This piece is meant to be very dancey ... Mainly, it’s a movement piece.”
That’s sort of like saying Hurricane Irma was a tropical weather disturbance.
Friday night, on a program titled “Redefined Movement” that also included Frederick Ashton’s “Les Rendezvous” and Dominic Walsh’s “I Napoletani,” The Sarasota Ballet became the first troupe outside the late choreographer’s eponymous company to perform this seamless, sprawling, relentless, piece. Their impressive job of managing its nonstop barrage of ever-accelerating runs, skips, leaps and turns, was nothing short of heroic; I imagine the exhaustion they must have experienced at its conclusion matched my own numb fatigue at what felt like a visual assault.
Longtime Paul Taylor Dance Company member Michael Trusnovec staged the piece and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes — billed as a guest artist but by now a Sarasota Ballet regular — inherited the lead male role which Trusnovec performed for two decades before retiring last year to take on the repetiteur mantle.
Barechested and wearing mustard-colored velvet tights, Gomes projected a magisterial magnetism that suited his role as the one dancer not in constant action. He spent a good part of the middle chunk of the piece walking around the stage bestowing an occasional touch to the female soloists — Danielle Brown, Katelyn May and Ellen Overstreet, all three the cream of the company’s crop. They alternately vied for his attention, with tilted and extreme side leg extensions, abrupt rotational changes, swooping arms and whirling dervish turns. Despite the pace, they maintained a fluid musicality, particularly Brown, whose organic ease seemed to derive from some uncontrollable inner catalyst.
Meanwhile an ensemble of male dancers in knee-length, green velvet unitards (Ricki Bertoni, Filippo Valmorbida, Ivan Spitale, Yuki Nonaka and Ethan Kimbrell) repeatedly raced across the stage in a fusillade of stag leaps, skips and percussive bounces. My scribbled notes included the phrase, “Too much!!” but judging by the ecstatic response from the audience at the marathon’s conclusion, there is no such thing. And surely the dancers deserved at least that much reward for their epic effort.
“Les Rendezvous,” the program opener and one of Ashton’s earliest ballets (1933), also wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Danced to a score by Daniel Auber, a largely forgotten 19th century French composer, it had a similar breakneck pace which, in this case, proved challenging for some of the dancers.
It’s set in a park where a series of friends — the men in white tunics with billowing sleeves, the women in elbow-length white gloves and full skirts, girlish ribbons atop their heads — meet, flirt and frolic around a central couple (company veterans Kate Honea and Ricardo Rhodes). He is gallant and chivalrous, she, coy and coquettish.
They alternate sequences with a trio (Samantha Benoit partnered by the company’s diminutive male powerhouses, Ivan Duarte and Valmorbida); two female ensembles (six girls with pink ribbons, four with white); and a sextet of men. There are plenty of perky runs and hops on pointe, lots of pell-mell prancing and spinning, some awkward lifts and what might be called very “active” arms. At least at the start, there were also a few spacing problems and near collisions.
It’s obviously a dated piece from a less sophisticated ballet era, but it all seemed a tad forced — particularly the dancers’ toothy, frozen smiles — and a little too precious, as Ashton’s work can on occasion seem. It’s best seen as a harbinger of what was to come, a first inkling of the original voice he would subsequently take to much greater heights.
When the company first danced “I Napoletani,” Walsh’s charming ode to Italy, in 2008, the choreographer was among the stereotypical characters on the stage. This time, his only appearance was a modest bow as the audience clapped in unison to a reprise of the familiar “O sole mio” (which also opened the piece) during the final curtain calls.
In front of a video backdrop of Italian food, architecture and scenery ( by the late Jeremy Choate) and set to popular 19th century Neapolitan songs, a large cast performs a series of vignettes celebrating Italian culture and society. The scenes include a visit to the renowned Teatro San Carlo, home of Italy’s first ballet school and a boisterous family scene around a dinner table.
The dancers seemed to uniformly enjoy the clever, quirky and often funny choreography and the release from the technical demands and velocity of the two previous works. The mysterious dim lighting (by Aaron Muhl) and exotic movement of the opening, with both men and women turned with backs to the audience and wearing poufy, tulle skirts that made them look like bizarre avian creatures was intoxicating. As was the dining scene, where the Italian capacity for gestural dialogue was exploited to the max.
Several dancers deserve special note: Gomes exuded machismo as the standoffish target of four women, who nevertheless becomes a whipped puppy at the sight of an alluring Brown. Bertoni stood out as an alternately wobbly-legged and shuffling buffoon. And the spritely Emelia Perkins, a company apprentice, lit up the stage every time she appeared.
But my highest accolades go to Spitale, whom I’ve had my eye on all season. He appeared in all three of the evening’s pieces and was technically masterful and naturally charismatic throughout. In particular, his solo at the start of “I Napoletani” is one I will not soon forget. Though currently just a corps member, I am delighted Director Iain Webb has obviously also seen this and rewarded both him and audiences with his increased presence.