The second ballet program for the season happened the night before Phil arrived in town. It was a full bill - running the gamut of styles and spirit....
The dance company is rising to the challenge of honoring three iconic choreographers in 'Masters of Dance.'by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment
The Sarasota Ballet is ready for its most difficult program of the year — and one of the most difficult in Director Iain Webb’s 11 years with the company.
“I wouldn’t have even considered bringing in some of the ballets we’re bringing in three or four years ago,” Webb says. “They’re so hard — we wouldn’t have gotten permission, and we wouldn’t have done them justice.”
But that was a different time. Now, the company has grown enough to properly honor three of the ballet world’s most legendary choreographers — Sir Frederick Ashton, Christopher Wheeldon and Jerome Robbins — in its second program of the year, “Masters of Dance.”
“The people who own the ballets and these trusts — now I think they know Margaret (Barbieri) and I and that we would never do something that wouldn’t show the work to the best of our ability ... it shows how the company’s grown,” Webb says. “I feel more relaxed — I can see more of the horizon for the organization.”
Highly technical, demanding choreography coupled with a short rehearsal schedule — they had just three weeks to prepare — might make some directors nervous. But Webb is confident in his dancers and says the challenge is good for them.
The first of the three ballets on the program, “Rhapsody,” is one of the last pieces Ashton ever created, and it’s also one of the few Ashton works The Sarasota Ballet has never staged. Come Nov. 16, the group will become the only American company to have performed it.
Ashton originally choreographed the piece on acclaimed Russian dancer-choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov, which makes for big shoes to fill, but Webb likes the technical steps and stamina required that draws the kind of attention usually reserved for the female lead.
“It’s fiendishly difficult ... both technically and stamina-wise,” he says of the male role. “But for all the cast, the counts — (Executive Director) Joseph Volpe came in to watch a rehearsal and couldn’t figure them out.”
Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal Mathias Dingman will be performing said role as a guest artist for the two evening performances, and Webb looks forward to seeing how it pushes his dancers even further.
When he was first starting out with Sarasota Ballet in 2007, Webb says he was adamant about not using guest dancers. But now that he has dancers who can hold their own alongside a star performer, he encourages it.
“The timing is vital,” he says. “What’s worse is if you bring a big famous dancer or guest in and your dancers themselves aren’t that strong … Now when you bring a guest in it sort of lifts the company.”
Webb is also excited to have New York City Ballet Principal Pianist Cameron Grant play “Rhapsody” in the pit with the Sarasota Orchestra under the direction of Royal Ballet Principal Guest Conductor Barry Wordsworth.
‘THERE WHERE SHE LOVED’
The Sarasota Ballet has a special connection to the choreographer of “There Where She Loved,” the second ballet on the “Masters of Dance” program.
In 1990, Assistant Director Margaret Barbieri retired from her position as a principal dancer at The Royal Ballet to become director of the new Classical Graduate Programme at London Studio Centre and artistic director of the school’s annual touring company, Images of Dance. It was during her time at the school that a young dancer-choreographer with great talent caught her eye.
Barbieri gave Wheeldon his first professional commission, a piece he created for Images of Dance, thus helping him kickstart his choreography career and eventually forming a special connection with the artist that has lasted to this day.
Webb says he enjoys coming back to “There Where She Loved” for many reasons, but especially because audiences typically know the music, which is a funky mix of compositions.
“The combination with ‘There Where She Loved’ is really interesting because it’s (music by) Frédéric Chopin and Kurt Weill, and you wouldn’t normally think of mixing the two because the composers are so extremely different,” he says. “But it’s a fun outcome.”
The company is celebrating the centennial of choreographer Robbins’ birth with the final ballet of the program, “The Concert.”
This is another piece in which Webb says audiences will know the music, but even those familiar with the piece won’t expect the choreography.
“It’s one of the funniest pieces of choreography around,” he says. ”You’ve got very serious Chopin music, and then you have funny situations happening like being at a concert with someone behind you who suddenly decides to unwrap some cough drops very noisily.”
Robbins was one of the great choreographers for musicals and Broadway along with ballets, Webb says, so there’s many comical and theatrical elements to his choreography.
This brings a whole other challenge for the company.
“It’s always difficult to play comedy,” Webb says. “You’ve got to do the choreography and with the music, that’s what makes it funny. It’s Robbins at his best.”
and the review by Carrie Seidman - who I sat next to for the ballet performances-
I was awed by the male lead in Rhapsody and enjoyed the Wheeldon very much- but the Concert not so much- I am not sure vaudeville translates into dance (at least for me) - others seemed to enjoy it more than I... but alas - that's what makes a horse race as they say...