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Sarasota Ballet presents ‘Iconographic’ program through Sunday at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts

“Iconographic” aptly described the opening program for the Sarasota Ballet as the weekend’s three pieces traveled through time and the world of dance.

“Paquita,” a ballet of technical virtuosity set to an energetic 1846 Ludwig Minkus score has become an icon of the classical ballet tradition.

Chandeliers light the scene of a grand ballroom as a group of girls in white and gold tutus, arms in unison reaching up toward the chandeliers bend and sway in a waltz: It is a lovely sight as a series of variations gradually begin. Samantha Benoit, a delicate dancer, handled the technical hops with an ease as if walking through a field of daisies at Friday’s opening performance. Ryoko Sadoshima sparkled in the allegro variation playing with the music as she floated across the stage. Ricardo Graziano, in white, as ballet princes usually appear, entered the ballroom with the pride of a cavalier as he offered his hand to his partner, Kate Honea, who thrilled the audience in a show of technical prowess as she tossed off at least 32 fast whipping turns, only to have Graziano match her feat.

Graziano is also a talented, promising choreographer, and “Symphony Of Sorrows,” a contemporary ballet he choreographed in 2012 to Henry Mikotaj Gorecki’s Symphony No.3, Movement No. 3, is a moving exploration of the feelings of grief. Though unusual as a theme for such a young man, it was the most powerful ballet of the evening. The stage is dark and the music lacks a comforting melody as a group of barechested men stand in a tight group. They slowly begin to move toward the back of the stage and as they do, the women in black begin to leave.

One by one, they stop, and in a moment of grief, their hands cover their eyes as if they don’t want to see. But then out of the darkness, other dancers emerge and come together as separate couples in a series of inventive, imaginative duets as the women cling to their partners in desperation. One couple recedes into the darkness as another emerges. One man carries his partner across his body as if she were a store dummy while another holds his partner, who swoons into a sudden back bend as if in a last desperate cry for comfort. The pattern is repeated until the five couples emerge together out of the darkness, the women, carried by their partners, their legs wide out into space leading the way. And then, a last look as they all step back into the darkness.

The road into expressive movement that Graziano chose for his ballet is connected to a history that began early in the 20th century with dancers/choreographers who were exploring new ideas. Martha Graham’s 1944 “Appalachian Spring” is one of the seminal ballets and is now receiving its first production by the Sarasota Ballet.

The familiar Aaron Copland music is heard as the bride, the husbandman, the revivalist, his followers and the pioneering woman enter the stage in a series of slow walks. The scene is set for the unfolding of a story that at first appears simplistic. But as the drama in the music echoes the hope, love and fear the characters face as they start a new life, their underlying emotions rise to the surface. Much of the choreography is limited to basic gestures. The husband slaps his legs and jumps around the stage as if he were a young stud herding cows, and yet Ricki Bertoni as the husband manages to infuse the stilted movements with a sincerity that turns him into a person, especially after the revivalist (Ivan Spitale, who jumps and jumps as if someone had him on the end of an elastic string), who has been preaching to an adoring group of young female admirers, suddenly frightens the young couple with a vision of dread and fear.

Up to that moment, Katelyn May has been a happy, young bride, miming cradling a baby, dancing a jig or swooping around the stage, her full-length skirt billowing in an unseen wind as the pioneering woman (Ellen Overstreet) sits on the side watching the drama unfold but she falters until love restores her faith in the future. Though the choreography for each of the characters is rooted in repetition of swirling turns and a variety of jumps, the Sarasota Ballet dancers have immersed themselves into this historic choreography adding their own passion to recreate the dreams and hopes of a pioneering couple.

Several different casts of dancers will take the stage during performances that continue through Sunday night.

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5555 North Tamiami Trail  Sarasota , FL  34243