The Sarasota Ballet started its 2016-17 season Friday evening with a gorgeous bit of nostalgia.
”Wolfgang for Webb” was the first piece that company director Iain Webb ever commissioned for the Sarasota Ballet, back in 2008. It’s also the first piece on the program of its first performance for this season. (You still have a chance to catch it. The same program is will be repeated through Sunday at the Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.)
The program is titled “Walsh, Graziano, Tudor & Layton.” Dominic Walsh, who choreographed ”Wolfgang for Webb,” later became the Sarasota Ballet’s resident choreographer. Ricardo Graziano, whose “Sonata in Four Movements” is also on the program. is the company’s current resident choreographer.
“Wolfgang for Webb” is stunning. Set to Mozart’s music, as the title implies, it blends classical ballet with contemporary dance elements, and elegance with humor, in ways that the seemingly disparate elements complement each other.
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The piece has 12 dancers on a beautifully stark set by Libbie Masterson that evokes a pristine but icy dreamscape. Dancers, two of whom portray Mozart and his muse, disappear under a drifting layer of fabric that flows across the stage, and then poke up through the fabric and reappear. Aaron Muhl’s lighting design and Domenico Luciano’s costumes are delicious enhancements to the performance.
“Wolfgang for Webb” is stunning. Set to Mozart music, as the title implies, it blends classical ballet with contemporary dance elements, and elegance with humor, in ways that the seemingly disparate elements complement each other.
Walsh’s choreography seems to be the perfect embodiment of Mozart’s music, as if the dance and the music were created in collaboration instead of centuries apart.
It’s longish piece, but the end comes far too soon.
Antony Tudor’s “Continuo,” a short piece for six dancers created in 1971 by famed British choreographer Antony Tudor, is performed by the Sarasota ballet for the first time. It’s gorgeously liquid, pure ballet, with no discernible attempt at narrative, and effortless leaps and lifts that seems to allow female dancers to swim through the air. It’s set to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” one of the most beautiful piece of music ever written, even if it’s a bit overused. Muhl’s lighting lends sophistication to the setless stage.
Graziano’s “Sonata in Four Movements,” the third piece on the program, is undeniably pretty, and it’s danced with power and grace by its eight-person cast. The Sarasota ballet has performed parts of it at events in other parts of the country, but this is its premiere in its full form. It’s pleasant to watch, but it suffers by following the Walsh and Tudor pieces. Danced to a lovely piano concerto by John Knowles Paine, it lacks an inventiveness or an emotional dynamic that could keep you riveted for its half-hour run.
The program ends with a cheerfully comic piece by Broadway choreographer Joe Layton. “The Grand Tour” is a story dance about a single woman in the 1930s who takes a cruise and finds she is surrounded by the biggest celebrities of the era. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, George Bernard Shaw, Theda Bara and Gertrude Stein are all on board. The dance itself is great fun, with a lovely art deco set by John Conklin, and music by Noel Coward (who is also one of the celebrities on the cruise). If you’re not intimately familiar with celebrities from 80 years ago, it’s worth taking a few minutes ahead of time to study the program so you’ll recognize all the characters.
The program ends with a cheerfully comic piece by Broadway choreographer Joe Layton. “The Grand Tour” is a story dance about a single woman in the 1930s who takes a cruise and finds she is surrounded by the biggest celebrities of the era.
It’s worth noting that back in the 1930s, people thought smoking was glamorous. So there’s a lot of cigarette smoking going on during the piece, and the “aroma” of the smoke is apparent through much of the audience area.
“The Grand Tour” is a delight, but it’s a novelty piece that comes after an evening full of sophisticated beauty, a tasty dessert after a delicate and satisfying meal.