‘Brandenburgs’ proves the best in a trio of ballets reflecting ‘Redefined Movement’

Influence of long-time Taylor Company dancer evident as performance unfolds

Danielle Brown and Marcelo Gomes perform in Brandenburgs. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

It might have been in a press release or a program insert, but when I saw a listing for an open rehearsal of Paul Taylor’s ballet, Brandenburgs, with guest artist Marcelo Gomes, I bought a ticket.

I know that Taylor’s movement vocabulary is rooted in early modern dance, especially the technique developed by Martha Graham. And I was also aware that his choreography reflects both a sardonic eye on humanity and an exploration of motion. I thought that the subtle shifts of weight that characterize Taylor’s choreography might be a challenge for Gomes’ classical technique, and I was curious as to how Michael Trusnovec, who was staging this pure dance ballet set to two Bach concertos, would explain the different approaches to the ballet’s technical vocabulary and to the choreography.

Trusnovec danced in the Taylor Company for 20 years before leaving the stage to keep Taylor’s vision alive through staging his work worldwide.

Slim and soft-spoken, Trusnovec was a gentle perfectionist during the open rehearsal as he worked with Gomes and three women (Tzu-Ting Su, Asia Bui and Emelia Perkins), analyzing one short segment of the Brandenburgsballet. He stressed the different use of energy, specifically in the torso, but he did not forget to emphasize the connection between the choreography and the soul-stirring Bach music as he turned the recorder off and on.

Marcelo Gomes is considered one of the finest ballet dancers of his generation, but during the rehearsal, he was just another dancer following instructions.

Marcelo Gomes performs in Brandenburgs. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

With the rehearsals having laid the groundwork, the Sarasota Ballet dancers and Gomes were ready for opening night at the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts. There was not an empty seat in the theater, but many in the audience found it difficult to relate to Taylor’s pure dance ballet. Brandenburgs is a fast-moving, nonstop whirlwind of leaps and jumps that hurtle through space. I, personally, loved this ballet and was swept along in its exuberance. In fact, if the curtain had come up and the ballet had begun again, I would have been pleased.

The story, or plot, of the ballet is about dance and space and music. The nonstop chain of movement begins with a chorus of five men who dance with a sense of intense energy and who serve as a symbolic chorus, creating a counterpoint to the solo male figure — Gomes — and his three partners, Danielle Brown, Katelyn May and Ellen Overstreet.

The ballerinas danced with a contagious enthusiasm. Their arms and palms were spread wide and open as, one by one, they leapt toward the audience as if embracing each and every person.

Gomes has a focused charisma that sets him apart from the moment he steps on stage. At first, I could see the stance of a ballet dancer in his posture. By the time of his solo, though, as he swirled through space, his torso was curving and bending, and his arms were open wide in a joyous gesture — the result of Trusnovec’s coaching.

I think this was Gomes’ first encounter with serious contemporary dance, though the ballet dates back to 1988, and soon, if not already, will be considered dated.

Kate Honea and Ricardo Rhodes appear in Les Rendezvous. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

The evening’s program began with Les Rendezvous, a 1933 ballet choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton. For the Sarasota Ballet, it was a less-than-inspired performance.

The evening did end on a high note with I Napoletani, a lively, 2007 theater dance piece choreographed by Dominic Walsh.

Walsh’s ballet is one of amusing vignettes, set to a group of nine popular, toe-tapping Neapolitan songs from the late 1800s. It is an easy excuse for some light-hearted dancing by the entire cast. But the first opening video visit to the Naples Opera House, where a group of dancers in overblown white feathers rolled around the stage as if in a nightmare, was especially confusing, as the next scene was set in a café. I later decided that the only connection to the opening seemed to be an invitation to enjoy Italian culture, with its emphasis on the arts, food, family and romance. My momentary confusion no longer mattered as I enjoyed this ballet’s delightful mix of songs and stories,

A series of flirtatious vignettes form the structure of I Napoletani. The theme of each story is cleverly set in a small, framed video portrait projected on a wall above a table.

Sarasota Ballet dancers perform in Dominic Walsh’s I Napoletani. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

The first encounter began in what appeared to be a café, as Emelia Perkins’ charms were wasted in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the coffee-drinking Ricardo Graziano’s attention; Ricki Bertoni, as loose-limbed as a toy doll, chased after an indifferent Kate Honea; and then Marcelo Gomes swaggered nonchalantly as a quartet of girls followed him, hoping for his attention — until Danielle Brown appeared, and it was his turn to run after a dream.

Other highlights included Graziano’s poignant solo to O Sole Mio; a tarantella led by Gomes and Bertoni; and the entire cast’s fun in Funiculi, Fanicula.

A quartet of admirers follows Marcelo Gomes’ character in I Napoletani. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

At the curtain call, Gomes — not just the visiting guest star but evidently a willing member of the cast — could not resist the pull of the music and nonchalantly added his own foot tapping and hand gestures to the bouncing rhythms.