Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Sarasota Ballets Gifts of Ashton and Gomes

Victoria Hulland & Marcelo Gomes in The Two Pigeons Act II. Photo by Frank Atura
Sarasota Ballet’s visit to the Joyce Theater last week brought things I have been wistful for of late—the repertory of Ashton, and the performing of Marcelo Gomes. The August 19 show led off with There Where She Loved, a suite by Christopher Wheeldon from 2000, to music by Kurt Weill and Chopin performed live. The seven sections featured small groups—four men and a woman, a trio, duets—emphasizing the difficult and sometimes knotty partnering that the choreographer endlessly explores. In the quintet, Ryoko Sadashima’s toe shoe-clad feet rarely alight as she is hoisted, flown, and manipulated in myriad ways by her four squires. (The main theme is danced by the men in shirts and pants, and later without shirts.) Some moments feel awkward: a couple lies head to head, holding hands, and rolls upstage; a woman scooches backwards offstage, seated. The singers (Stella Zambalis and Michelle Giglio), accompanied by pianist Cameron Grant, add luster.

Works by Frederick Ashton comprise the rest of the program. Monotones I & II are performed periodically by ABT, but on the larger Koch Theater stage. Each is done by a trio in yellow and white unitards with sparkles and toadstool headcaps. The three often move in unison, or in canon, or the two women partner one man, and vice versa. The pace is stately and even-paced for the most part; abrupt moves might include a jump into fourth position, or a sissonne into a low arabesque. The close proximity at the Joyce adds even more possibilities to scrutinize off timing or bobbles. But the company essentially fared well under pressure.
Ryoko Sadoshima, Samantha Benoit & Alex Harrison in Monotones I. Photo Frank Atura
Four wide-ranging Ashton miniatures closed the bill. La Chatte, a study of a cat woman, features cliched air-clawing and ear cleaning gestures, and a comedic loud meow at the end; it shows Ashton’s earthy sense of humor. Les Patineurs pas de trois demonstrates Ashton’s fluency with capturing the essence of expression, in the case of ice skating. Elongated chassees and strategic hops impressively create the effect of the real thing, and the simple joy skating evokes is conveyed by the dancers’ luminous faces. Méditation from Thaïs is a more traditional pas de deux with “exotic” costumes of orange and apricot, and numerous technically difficult lifts and partnering maneuvers.

It was only when Marcelo Gomes appeared at the start of The Two Pigeons that I was reminded of how great stage presence can be relayed even while simply walking (albeit with a live dove on his shoulder). Lost in thought, it’s clear he is consumed with emotion as he tenderly places the dove on a chair. Victoria Hulland enters, settling into a “dying swan” pose; he impulsively plunges his arms around her waist to pick her up. It’s during such elemental moments, and not necessarily bigger moves, when Gomes is most moving—like he has created a backstory and lives that character. As they dance together, absorbed in romance, another dove flies onstage and joins the first. The poetry of the parallel pairs carries great pathos and reminds us of the power of theatrical ballet, of which Ashton is exemplary. And also of the recent absence of Gomes, one of his generation's finest performers, but the glimmer of hope that he will periodically return.

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