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The Sarasota Ballet’s production “Metropolitan” opening on December 1st was a night to remember. The evening was billed as a tribute to New York and although the connection among the pieces was a bit tenuous (all were choreographed by or for New Yorkers), they shared in common a complexity and sophistication befitting Manhattan.
The celebrated American Ballet Theatre principal Marcelo Gomes, who lit up the Sarasota Ballet stage twice last year, builds on his newfound connection with the company with his world premiere of the spectacular “Dear Life.” In the ballet, a man, Ricardo Rhodes, realizes he is dying and writes a tribute letter to his life celebrating the richness of the human experience. In turns clever and highly spiritual, this piece reminds us to appreciate our lives and live in the moment. Although that notion is something that dominates the self-help movement, it to place it in the context of classical dance, a fleeting art form, felt groundbreaking.
Ballet dancers must perfect their bodies and their movement at the skill level of an elite athlete while simultaneously performing a work of art for an audience. Ballerinas move balanced entirely on the very tips of their toes, so you don’t get much more precarious than that. Male dancers are celebrated for reaching incredible heights in their leaps (Ricardo Graziano actually leaped over another dancer in the second piece of the evening), so their strength enables them to fly. A dancer’s time on stage is limited, and they often move into teaching and/or choreography to prolong their artistic lives. So, Gomes’s poignant choreography about the tenuousness of life and the glory of a life well lived was likely to have been self-revelatory as he moves into choreography and is surely considering what is certain to be a profound legacy on the dance world.Victoria Hulland and Ricardo Rhodes in "Dear Life" (photo by Frank Atura)
Rhodes is normally one of my favorites for his compassionate style of dancing, and he was wonderful as always. However, I feel that Gomes must dance this part at some point, because I have no doubt that his gifts for fully embodying a role would make the part of the man fully realized. Gomes has had the life experience and the tenure of a dancer to bring the role of the man to full fruition. The idea of paying tribute to one’s own life is so profound that I hope that Gomes and the company continue to explore this truly brilliant dance in future performances. "Dear Life" has the makings of a dance classic much like Alvin Ailey's frequently-performed fan-favorite "Revelations."
The rest of the evening was more typical of the Sarasota Ballet. Graziano, who is the Sarasota Ballet’s secret weapon, is back after recovering from an injury and better than ever. He brought so much gravitas and soul to the role of the Poet (based on Rimbaud) in Sir Frederick Ashton’s piece “Illuminations.” I can’t pretend to understand exactly what was happening in this piece pitting the poet’s Sacred Love (Amy Wood) against his Profane Love (Ellen Overstreet). This dreamlike ballet featured bizarre and elaborate costumes and sets, and the piece was transporting. The company did a beautiful job with "Illuminations" nicely complemented by the orchestra conducted by Ormsby Wilkens and the tenor Jason Ferrante. “Illuminations” was so dramatic and exciting, and the aforementioned leap by Graziano over the head of a rather tall dancer made the piece even more astonishing.
The company closed the evening with “Theme and Variations” choreographed by George Balanchine. Kate Honea did an excellent job with the intricate choreography with a high degree of difficulty. I also really enjoyed Lucas Erni’s performance as her leading man.
Erni is new to the company this year and is an excellent addition. As is, Katelyn May who made a smash last month as Mary in “The Secret Garden” and was outstanding in “Theme and Variations.” She is one to watch as her experience with the company grows. The costumes were lavish and fanciful, and the set was regal. The company pulled out all the stops with the closing piece ending a magical evening. I feel a strong connection between New York City, my former home, and Sarasota, my current home; and I always enjoy the opportunity to honor the connection between two great American artistic hubs.