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The Sarasota Ballet substitutes 'The Nutcracker' for dazzling 'Victorian Winters'

The dazzling triple bill featured Sir Frederick Ashton's 'Les Patineurs' and 'Enigma Variations' with George Balanchine's 'Diamonds.'

While most companies across America perform “The Nutcracker” every December, Director Iain Webb has chosen a different path for The Sarasota Ballet. Every other year he takes a break from the holiday tradition and replaces it with an exciting triple bill. “Victorian Winters,” performed this past weekend at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, was the perfect cure for those who want a “White Christmas” but have overdosed on too many Nutcrackers. 

The evening began with the Sarasota Orchestra, led by guest conductor Jonathan McPhee, playing music by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The curtain opens, revealing a skating rink in a snowy park adorned with lanterns and trellises. “Les Patineurs,” one of Sir Frederick Ashton’s early works, has become a Sarasota Ballet staple. Tonight, while it was clear that the veteran cast members led the way, new additions showed promise. Victoria Hulland and Jamie Carter skimmed across the stage seamlessly during the lyrical White Couple pas de deux. The demanding yet humorous Red Girl duet was well executed by Ellen Overstreet and Amy Wood. Kate Honea and Katelyn May were impressive and bold Blue Girls, particularly Honea’s triumphant fouetté turn sequence. Ivan Duarte impressed with high-flying jumps and multiple turns in his debut as Blue Boy, yet lacked the witty timing and subtle charm we once saw from Logan Learned.

Ashton’s “Enigma Variations” paints a picture of composer Edward Elgars’ friends through a series of vignettes. The central characters perform variations emoting love, loss and loyalty. Friday evening was thoughtfully cast, particularly Amy Wood as the ethereal Lady Mary Lygon, Fillippo Valmorbida as George Robertson Sinclair and Christine Windsor as Winifred Norbury. Kudos to Ricardo Graziano’s movingly simple Elgar, a role that requires little dancing but carries the ballet. Striking sets and costumes by Julia Trevelyan Oman were warmly complimented by Mark Johnson’s lighting design.   

Lastly, George Balanchine’s “Diamonds.” The ballet is part of the full-length “Jewels” and is a tribute to pure classicism. Friday evening’s corps de ballet was lively and well-rehearsed. Honea and May danced in perfect unison and were joined by Samantha Benoit and Elizabeth Sykes in the brilliant scherzo section. But the true standout of the evening was Danielle Rae Brown in the principal role. She danced with celebration and abandonment while remaining technically secure. Graziano provided flawless support as her partner and shined in his solo moments throughout the ballet.

From the the snow fall in “Les Patineurs” to the flurry of glimmering white tutus in “Diamonds,” “Victorian Winters” brought all the merriment of the holiday season to Sarasota. Judging by the standing ovation and roaring applause, “The Nutcracker” was not even missed.

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