“Allegro Brillante,” “The Two Pigeons”
Sarasota Ballet of Florida
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
December 1, 2007
by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel
Sarasota Ballet of Florida has been around for a while, and it’s been a maverick company. Eddy Toussaint ran the company, as did Robert de Warren; neither followed the cookie-cutter formula of familiar story ballets. Still, the company kept a comparatively low profile and that may be about to change.
Iain Webb, formerly of Sadlers Wells and the Royal Ballet, became the new Artistic Director this year and is planning a season almost unheard of in this country, one that includes two Ashton ballets and two by MacMillan along with van Manen, André Prokovsky, David Bintley and Matthew Bourne. The company opened the season last weekend with a blockbuster double bill of Balanchine’s “ Allegro Brillante” and Ashton’s “The Two Pigeons.”
“The Two Pigeons” was a word of mouth sensation at the 2004 Ashton Festival in Lincoln Center. It didn’t sell well because it was unfamiliar, but received standing ovations nightly when Birmingham Royal Ballet performed it. The story is simple – a young artist, squabbling with his lover, is captivated by a gypsy girl. His lover, sensing danger, tries to compete with the gypsy girl to no avail; the young man leaves their garret in search of the gypsy girl at her camp. His arrival there is punctuated by a series of dances that culminate in his humiliation by the gypsy girl’s lover and his cohorts. Humiliated and chastened, the young man returns home and dances a pas de deux of reconciliation and regret the equal of Ashton’s great final pas de deux in “The Dream”.
Having seen the lovely Birmingham production in New York, Sarasota held its own. Set by Margaret Barbieri, who has danced both leading female roles (Webb has also danced and set the ballet), the dancers may not have looked English, but they used their upper bodies and worked towards the style. The lead dancers, Lauren Strongin and Sergiy Mykhaylov not only danced well, but were believable and sympathetic in their roles. Joysanne Sidimus set a respectable “Allegro” on the company as well.
Miami City Ballet isn’t New York City Ballet no matter what anyone thinks, and it would be damaging to Sarasota Ballet to act as if it were the Royal Ballet. It isn’t and it's not pretending to be. “Two Pigeons” stretched the company to its absolute limit; everyone in the company was dancing and an injury to a man would have spelled disaster.
Webb and I spoke between performances. I asked him when the company might do Ashton’s “Scènes de Ballet.” Not for a while, he answered diplomatically. I then asked him when it would do “Dracula” and a wicked grin spread across his face. “Never!” Watching the history of regional ballet in America, one is woefully aware that it takes years to build a company and about four months to destroy one. Webb’s ambitions cost money and he has his work cut out for him. Without the community’s full backing (and as importantly, his Board) this can’t work, and it ought to. He’s offering Sarasota a high-profile company with a unique repertory of genuine quality.