Learned and Honea shine in Sarasota Ballet’s final program of the season

Members of troupe also earn high marks for Leaves Are Fading and Bugaku

Kate Honea and Logan Learned take the stage in Tarantella. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of the Sarasota Ballet

The last program of Sarasota Ballet’s 2017-18 season began with a sparkling Logan Learned bounding about the stage in George Balanchine’s challenging interpretation of the traditional Tarantella folk dance.

Set to Louis M. Gottschalk’s joyous Grand Tarantelle, the choreography is devilishly demanding, as fast as the toe-tapping tempo of the music. This challenging tour de force of a pas de deux, complete with tambourine playing — and danced with aplomb by Logan and his partner, Kate Honea — was added to the program to honor Logan, who is leaving Sarasota Ballet after 10 years to pursue a career as a teacher.

I have always enjoyed watching his musical and charismatic performances, and I cannot imagine that dance will not continue to be a part of his life.

With such an upbeat performance setting the mood, I knew this was going to be an exceptional evening of dance. It would be highlighted by performances of rarely seen ballets by Antony Tudor and Balanchine. May I offer a few words here in appreciation of the presence of the Sarasota Orchestra (under the baton of Barry Wordsworth and with pianist Cameron Grant), adding intensity and feeling to the evening. Since music and dance are entwined, the live performance of a ballet’s score adds a welcome richness.

Kristianne Kleine. Photo courtesy Sarasota Ballet

Antony Tudor used selections from Antonin Dvorak’s sublime string quartetsopus 77 and 80 and the elegiac Cypresses Terzetto as the emotional base for The Leaves Are Fading, his nostalgic ballet recalling youthful love. Against a background of green leaves, girls in wispy chiffon dresses and men in loose tops and tights meet, dance and separate in a series of continuous, sensuous duets that find the characters ripe with yearning. There is an ease and fluidity in Tudor’s classically based choreography and an elusive natural quality that makes the many varied and inventive lifts appear as easy as breathing.

Echoes of the original choreography created in 1975 for Gelsey Kirkland, a dancer of extraordinary lightness and boneless flexibility, are re-interpreted in the swooping arms and the yearning backbends that define each couple’s encounter. A beautiful, passionate duet midway of the ballet gave Kristianne Kleine, who is also leaving Sarasota Ballet, an opportunity to explore the piece’s soft and romantic atmosphere in contrast to her usual dramatic roles.

Tudor’s vision is one of spare, detailed emotion. Sarasota Ballet’s dancers can be justly proud at being as comfortable with Tudor’s dreamlike, poetic world as they are with the works of Sir Frederick Ashton.

A stunning, spare set of poles and platforms created the scene for George Balanchine’s investigation of Japanese rituals in Bugaku, one of his rarely performed ballets and one that I find to be fascinating. The eerie sounds of the score composed by Toshiro Mayuzumi — which has a Japanese flavor — left no doubt that Balanchine’s curiosity was not limited to European culture. It is evident Balanchine also was not about to shy away from exploring the juxtaposition of ritual and sexuality in this highly personal, cross-cultural blend of neo-classical ballet and quasi-Japanese gestures rooted in traditional forms of theater and of a ritual called Gagaku.

Dancers perform a scene from Bugaku. Photo courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

Ryoko Sadoshima and Lucas Erni were the main couple in this piece, which has the characters preparing for the consummation of their wedding. Kudos to the dancers for their grace and for their ability to maintain the contained and steady movements of the central, erotic and acrobatic pas de deux.

A group of four girls and four boys act as the couple’s formal “court,” helping to prepare them for the ceremony. The mincing steps and flexed wrists of the girls and the militaristic lunges of the boys reflect the ballet’s Japanese setting. They are integral to the highly stylized slow, deliberate choreography of this strange, imaginative world.

It is well known that Balanchine’s choreography expresses the mood and rhythmic structure of the music with which he has chosen to work. And the score for Bugaku is no different: The eerie high strings and the pounding of powerful drums add a hypnotic voice to the overall drama. Created in 1963, the concept and the choreography of this production shows Balanchine to be an artist willing to challenge tradition and explore new ideas, not only in his cinematic and theatrical work, but also for a classical ballet company. No doubt: Bugakuis a welcome addition to Sarasota Ballet’s growing collection of George Balanchine’s ballets.

I have to admit that I found Marguerite and Armand, a piece d’occasion choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton for Margo Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev — based on the well-worn story of La Dame aux Camelias — to be dated and uninspiring, even though Victoria Hulland gave an emotional performance as the character Marguerite, with Ricardo Graziano portraying her young lover. The Sarasota Ballet is one of the few ballet companies with the rights to this ballet. In my opinion — except for the audience’s ability to hear the heart-rending music of Franz Liszt’s 8 minor piano sonatas— there was no need to dust it off.