Sarasota Ballet dancers shine in ‘Winter Variations’

Sarasota Orchestra provides masterful accompaniment

Dancers ‘ice skate’ in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

As the curtain rose for the afternoon’s performance of The Sarasota Ballet’s Victorian Winters, it was easy to imagine the audience members were seeing a group of ice skaters happily sliding over a pond of ice.

Welcome to Les Patineurs, Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1937 interpretation of a 19th century skating party. Not only is it a charming visual sight, as comforting as an old-fashioned holiday card, but the dancers, clad in blue tartan skirts and fur-collared jackets, appear to be skating to the lilting rhythms of a score created from the operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer.

I have seen the ballet many times and am always warmed by the air of delightful camaraderie among the dancers as they imitate the twirling turns and gliding movements of skaters balancing on ice.

There are many dancers who are new to the Sarasota company, and although I am familiar with the dancing of both Amy Wood and Ellen Overstreet — who were the jaunty girls in red — and I have seen past performances of Samantha Benoit and Asia Bui — the girls in blue — the other 11 dancers in the cast were new to me.

Thomas Glugovaz, who was cast as the Blue Boy, the acrobatic, exhibitionist role of the ballet, has been a member of the company for the last two years. He had been a dancer I could not place before this evening. Logan Learned, who left Sarasota Ballet, was a natural in this same role, so, of course, all eyes in the audience were on Glugovaz, to see if he had the fire to pull off the variation. And I have to say, not quite. He has the necessary technical prowess to meet the choreographic challenges, including brilliant, quick-silver foot work; but this is a role that requires a sort of charisma that turns all the technical tricks into magic, and he is more of a sylph than a magician.

Ellen Overstreet and Amy Wood perform a duet in Les Patineurs. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

Ashton was a young man when he choreographed Les Patineurs. Thirty years later, he created Enigma Variations: My Friends Pictured Within, honoring the life and music of Edward Elgar, the English composer who wrote the melancholic tone poem of the same name.

Using the original comments by Elgar, which describe Elgar and a close group of friends, Ashton created a ballet with 14 major characters and another supporting group of 10. The ballet unfolds as Elgar (Jamie Carter) and his friends wait to hear if his Enigma Variationswill be performed by an important conductor.

Among the varied characterizations of the friends that I found most effective were Ricki Bertoni’s solo of eccentric, mechanical movements and the romantic duet between Victoria Hulland, at her most lyrical, and a dashing Weslley Carvalho.

When Elgar learns that he has achieved success, all his friends congratulate him and then leave the scene.

At the same time, Amy Wood (Elgar’s wife,) Elgar and Nimrod (Harvey Evans) dance together in a quiet pas de troisthat accepts the complexity of a relationship that is only hinted at, but this variation evokes the most honest and emotional moments in a ballet of constant movement, where many of the characters are too busy jumping and running to connect with one another.

The afternoon’s performance closed with Diamonds, a smoothly danced interpretation of George Balanchine’s plotless ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s beautiful Symphony No. 3 in D major. Fortunately, the Sarasota Orchestra, under the baton of Jonathan McPhee, added the benefit of live music throughout the day, but as I heard the deeply emotional melody of Tchaikovsky’s opening waltz, I stopped taking notes, sat back and watched the crystalline beauty of the ballet.

Simple but elegant staging frames the dancers in Diamonds. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy of Sarasota Ballet

Two brightly lit chandeliers hung over the stage, and large swaths of white fabric were draped around the walls. That was all.

Thirty-two dancers, attired in Madame Karinska’s shining white, jewel-encrusted costumes, entered the stage and began their steps. Like facets in a bright diamond, the members of the group constantly divided into smaller numbers that arranged and rearranged themselves as the dancers executed duets and trios in choreography that re-traces the roots of classical ballet.

A traditional grand pas de deux between a pliant Danielle Brown and a princely Ricardo Graziano represented the emotional core of the ballet.

The finale of Diamonds with the entire company of 34 dancers on stage in a courtly polonaise added a splendid and exhilarating climax to Diamonds, and to an afternoon at the ballet.