BWW Review: SARASOTA BALLET, Program A, at the Joyce
Before the curtain even went up on the Sarasota Ballet on August 16, 2018, at the Joyce Theater, I was wondering if all the disruptions in the auditorium were a harbinger of things to come.
First the air conditioner seemed to be flickering; I felt my back going and thought I would need an ambulance to cart me away; the person near me dropped her water bottle, much to her aggravation and mine; the man behind me wanted ice cream; a woman in another row began fighting with her two young daughters about everything; and the house lights hadn't even dimmed.
The curtain rose on Frederick Ashton's Monotones I, a work I have not encountered very often in the past 30 years, for the very reason that it is seldom programmed, even in his native England.
We begin. Monotones I. Quiet. Two women and one man, all clad in green unitards and belts. I'm not sure what you call the thing they wear on their heads. Helmets? Head gear? Does it really matter? They dance in very sculptured phrases, each seems to be exposing the raw nerves of the dance vocabulary, but it's muted. There is no sign of struggle, they're dancing for themselves, yet at the same time with each other, alert to their bodies. Their physiques every so often acknowledge the presence of another human being. Danced to Erik Satie's Trois Gnossiennes, expertly performed by Cameron Grant on the piano, you could almost describe the dance as a quiet, restrained explosion of the human form. But in good taste.
Monotones II followed, this time a pas de trois for two men and a woman, dressed in white. Like the former, it is stark, simple; there is a subtle battle among the three, the movement unfolding like quick waves in an ocean. No one wins, but there is a challenge going on. Even if there will be no winner.
It's almost Agonish, which brings up a good point. How much did Balanchine influence Ashton? Probably more than most people think.
Set once again to Satie, this time to Trois Gymnopédie, the ballet seemed puzzling to the audience. They did not know how to react. Was this a masterpiece? Was this a prelude to the big works to follow? Was it just too intangible and removed? So polite applause for all the dancers, the very fine dancers including Kate Honea, Nicolas Moreno and Katelyn May in Monotones I; Jamie Carter, Amy Wood and Daniel Pratt in Monotones II.
I could probably say that Monotones I and II are ballets for connoisseurs. On the other hand, perhaps that's an underestimation on my part. While they provide great technical challenges for dancers, as was evident in the performance, there is still that spark of creativity, of something rarefied yet challenging and appealing about them. And the ballets are more difficult than they actually seem. At the performance, balances could be wobbly and were sometimes off, while partnering was touch and go, dancers having a problem connecting to each other. But these are quibbles, especially in a live performance. The Sarasota Ballet, which has been presenting more Ashton than almost any other company, including the Royal Ballet, ought to be very proud. Their Monotones was excellent in all departments. It was a very smart move on their part to bring this to New York. I wish they had presented more.
Ricardo Graziano, a principal dancer with the company, has now taken on the mantle of Resident Choreographer. Since I have not seen his other choreographic works, I have only his Symphony of Sorrows, to music of Henry Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, Movement No.3, on which to judge his talent.
It's a good piece, solid, passionate. It depicts loss, perhaps after war, some community devastation. If the overbearing music sometimes undercuts the dramatic flow on stage, if it reminds us at times of other ballets of loss and bereavement-Antony Tudor's Dark Elegies comes to mind, so what? Choreographers need to draw inspiration. Why not Tudor?
Graziano's opening, a group slowly moving forward while a female dancer turns and looks back into a void, is one of the most striking images I have seen in recent years. The poignancy, the look on the dancer's tortured face, and the shoulder that moves her around to follow the group into the darkness are not new. We've seen them all before. But when it is presented in Graziano's visualization, its raw power is overwhelming. How often can you say that?
I can easily see why some people would find the ballet overly arch and almost too pristine, despite the upsetting premise and presentation. It is danced beautifully, almost too beautifully for its own good. Aren't these people in mourning? Their bodies don't always reflect this. It's a betrayal.
Yes. True. But in the ballet, at its core, it palpitates. It's human. That's about as good a compliment as I can find. Iain Webb, the director of the company, made a wise choice when appointing Graziano to the title. When a work by a relatively new choreographer leaves you wanting more, you know there is some kind of future in store for him.
Christopher Wheeldon's There Where She Loved, choreographed in 2000 to the songs of Frederic Chopin and Kurt Weill-strange bedfellows indeed-was an exercise in pain and disillusionment, all in the name of love. The music was beautifully performed by Cameron Grant on the piano and sung by Michelle Giglio and Stella Zambalis. The ballet depicts encounters by men and women. There are pas de deux, pas de trois, and a pas de six when a woman is manipulated by five men, a veritable cascade of love knocking and leaving. And in the final pas de deux to Weill's Je ne t'aime pas, love ends quietly. As do most relationships.
The Sarasota Ballet has been in the forefront of ballet companies since Iain Webb took over the helm in 2007. Its vibrancy, its passion, its commitment to dance is bracing, especially in light of today's artistic upheavals. I think I'll fly down to Sarasota next time.
Victoria Hulland, Ricardo Graziano & Ricardo Rhodes in Ashton's Monotones II - Photo by Frank Atura