Thursday, February 19, 2015

Trip the light fantastic at the Ballet

so my Arts class went off on our Tuesday morning tour to the Sarasota Ballet- and here is the only photo I have LOL- no photos inside - but never fear, the Internet has come to the rescue for the visuals-

and here are some tidbits from my notes- from the introduction a lovely lady from the Friends of the Ballet gave us:
  • the building was designed for the FSU theater program and also to be used for a FSU Film & Television school and was used that way for a while until FSU decided to return the Film & TV school to Tallahassee. 
  • the ballet was started in the late 80s by Jean Weidner who was a former Stuttgart ballet dancer.
  • it was originally a "presenting" company (presented shows of other dance companies)
  • in 1991 it became a full ballet
  • a local benefactor wanted the ballet to have its own home (rather than shopping mall locations) and gave a donation to build a building near Van Wezel
  • the FSU Performing Arts School was failing financially after the film school left and had half their building vacant
  • the ballet worked out a deal to take over the space in the FSU Performing Arts Center on a 40 year lease which was brilliant all around
  • the ballet gets set dates each year in the calendar for the Mertz theater in the FSU Center.
  • Iain Webb became the director of the ballet 7+ years ago
At this point we were lucky enough to get 15 minutes or so with Iain Webb himself...
  • he said he came to Sarasota with two things- his wife and his address book
  • he found the ballet in a huge financial shambles
  • now they have a huge endowment for the ballet and another endowment for the music
  • they do seven productions a year whereas most companies this size will do four (or five, if they do Nutcracker- yuck- my own aside LOL)
  • they have developed a reputation for ballets of Sir Frederick Ashton
  • the SRQB was chosen as one of nine around the country for a program at the Kennedy Center and were considered the "jewel of the festival" by the critics
  • at the Four for Dance Festival SRQB was chosen as one of twenty from around the world to perform
  • they perform at the Kennedy Center regularly
  • this summer they will be at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in MA- where they will perform Ashton (to Satie's Trois Gymnopedies along with a Wheeldon ballet and a world premiere by their in-house choreographer)
then Iain Webb had to leave and we went on a tour backstage and through the FSU Performing Arts center.

we headed first into the Mertz Theater which was built in 1903 in Dunfermline, Scotland as their opera house.

Dunfermline is an historic city in Fife just north of the Firth of Forth, which lays claim to being a former capital of Scotland, the birthplace of Charles I, and more recently, of Andrew Carnegie. There the opera house had undergone a thorough upgrading in 1921.  But it had been torn down to make way for a shopping center. However, the plasterwork, especially the proscenium arch which had been built as a megaphone-like pre-amplification aid to acoustics, had been carefully catalogued, photographed, disassembled, and stored. Crates of ornamental plasterwork, cherubs, medallions, cornices, stage box railings, and moldings were purchased. While the Dunfermline had a seating capacity of nearly a thousand, the decision was made to adopt a more comfortable seating plan with greater legroom as well as wider seats. Sarsota architect Stuart Barger designed a building which would have as its interior auditorium a 500-seat, clear-sightline version of the Dunfermline Opera House fronting a modern stagehouse with full flies, wings and all the rest of the accoutrements necessary for a year-round repertory company. Wing to wing, the stagehouse is 104’, and the grid is at 55’ over the stage behind the 28’x18’ proscenium. (source Brad Hathaway | livedesignonline)

the Historic Asolo (which is also in the complex) had been built in 1787 in Asolo Italy and now is the venue for both some of the Asolo Rep productions as well and other cultural events (see "Just Plain Brilliant" at for an example) But back to our tour-

from the Mertz we went behind the scenes and to the sound stage where they were rehearsing for the upcoming Nureyev tribute - as I said no photos but I did take a ton of them off the website of the Sarasota Ballet ( so you can see the dancers in their various costumes etc...

and here is some information from their website as well with fact and figures (that have been vetted in a way my notes may not have been LOL)

  • The Sarasota Ballet is entering its 24th Season with an exciting repertoire.  Director Iain Webb has been at the helm for 8 years, bringing the Company unprecedented national and international acclaim. Webb and his Assistant Director (wife) Margaret Barbieri have given this small American company the world's most extensive active Ashton repertoire.  In addition to the artistic success of the Company, the organization has achieved financial stability and growth under Managing Director Mary Anne Servian.
  • The Sarasota Ballet is proud to have added 110 Ballets & Divertissements under Iain Webb's direction, including 34 World Premieres, 6 American Premieres, 62 Sarasota Premieres and 8 Revivals, presenting works by some of the leading choreographers in the past and present, including Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Matthew Bourne, Agnes de Mille, Dame Ninette de Valois, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Twyla Tharp, Will Tuckett, Antony Tudor, Christopher Wheeldon and many more.  We are pleased to be adding 2 World Premieres and 8 Company Premieres to this list in the 24th Season.
  • The Sarasota Ballet is excited to enter into our 24th Season with 6 principals, 8 soloists, 12 coryphee and a corps de ballet of 23 talented dancers.
  • The Education Department at The Sarasota Ballet consists of our acclaimed Sarasota Ballet School, The Margaret Barbieri Conservatory of Dance and our at-risk drop-out prevention program, Dance-The Next Generation.
  • The Margaret Barbieri Conservatory of Dance-  Pre-Professional Training Program: Overseen by Margaret Barbieri, former prima ballerina and Assistant Director of The Sarasota Ballet, this program is dedicated entirely to the professional training of students possessing exceptional potential.  Students to the Conservatory are accepted by audition only. The faculty of the Conservatory is committed to the careful guidance of these students by combining technique, artistry, passion, history and intellect.  These selected young dancers train 6 days a week in an intimate, demanding and performance-based environment.
  • The Sarasota Ballet School is the only ballet school affiliated with a professional ballet company on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The School provides professional instruction for students of all ages. The Sarasota Ballet offers the very best in training by our exceptionally qualified faculty. Our entire faculty is either current or former professional dancers and ballet masters. 
  • The Sarasota Ballet School consists of the following levels: Children’s Division (ages 3-7)  Lower Division (ages 8-12) and Upper Division (Advance 1 & 2)

The DNG program is quite an incredible service project for the ballet to undertake because those who enter it are nurtured for TEN YEARS.  The DNG program today remains a part of the education component of The Sarasota Ballet.  It continues to provide the opportunity for economically disadvantaged children and minorities—those who are most at-risk of dropping out of school—to participate in a 10-year, full-scholarship program in dance, but the focus is no longer on career dance training.  Rather, it focuses on instilling self-discipline that is inherent in the study of dance, resulting in achieving academic goals and becoming a positive, contributing member of society.

here is a little blurb from the Internet about Iain:

Iain Webb (born c. 1960) is an English ballet dancer and choreographer who formerly danced for the Royal Ballet in London. He is currently artistic director of Florida's Sarasota Ballet where he has staged many of Frederick Ashton's ballets.  From the age of 16, he trained at the Rambert School of Ballet and at the Royal Ballet School. By 1989, he was a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, performing leading roles in works such as Ashton's The Dream, Fokine's Les Sylphides and Balanchine's The Prodigal Son. In 1996, he retired as an active dancer, becoming a rehearsal director for Matthew Bourne's productions of Swan Lake and Cinderella.

In 1999, he joined Japan's newly established K-Ballet, first as ballet master then as assistant director. He has also co-directed Adam Cooper's ballet company and has produced international performances involving the Royal Danish Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet.

In 2007, Webb became director of the Sarasota Ballet where he has staged over 100 productions including 16 world premieres. He attributes much of his success to the support of his wife Margaret Barbieri, who while at the Royal Ballet worked closely with masters including Ashton, John Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan and Ninette de Valois. Webb's productions have also included classical works by George Balanchine, Antony Tudor and Agnes de Mille and more recent ballets by Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon. Sarasota Ballet was in a dreadful financial position at the beginning of his term but Webb has managed to increase ticket sales by a factor of four, restoring the company's viability.  In May 2014, Webb staged Sarasota Ballet's widely acclaimed Frederick Ashton Festival with a wide selection of Ashton's works.

here is a photo of him and then one of him with his wife-

and some beautiful photos of the ballet- from their website-

So these amazingly fabulously dressed dancers are costumed by a shop of ONE lady! As some of you may know our daughter Angela was the head of the New York City Ballet women's costume shop for several years and she had a dozen seamstresses working in her shop. So this is astounding- one woman with a few part time folks to help when she has the extra work!

The morning we toured the costume shop lady was dying ballet slippers ($2000 per year per dancer on average) while company members were practicing in one of five studios and the big sound stage and another using the pilates room, meantime several came in and out of the kitchen where they store food (many dinners prepared by the Friends of the Ballet because of their 6 day a week schedule at the ballet between the dancers and the students)...

here is a little blurb from the Jacob's Pillow website about the SRQB...

The Sarasota Ballet is acclaimed for their vitality, versatility, and elegance. This top ballet company performs Sir Frederick Ashton's celebrated, artful trios Monotones I and II, set to music by Erik Satie; Christopher Wheeldon's fluid, joyous The American set to the Dvorák piece of the same name, and a world premiere by Brazilian resident choreographer and company member Ricardo Graziano.

and since this has gone on so long - I will end now with a photo of our favorite ballerina- the daughter of our friend who heads up the Paris Opera Ballet's NYC office- who seems like she may have a dance career ahead of her as well! As with all stars, she is the one focused on the camera!

a very interesting and enjoyable tour- next week - we do the galleries --- so stay tuned!

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