The Sarasota Ballet at the Linbury Theatre are preserving Sir Frederick Ashton’s rich legacy

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Sarasota Ballet’s Valses nobles et sentimentales / Divertissements / Façade: Dancers of Sarasota Ballet. Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, London, 6.6.2024. (JO’D)

Sarasota Ballet’s Valses nobles et sentimentales © Frank Atura

To mark the opening of the Frederick Ashton Foundation’s five-year festival, ASHTON WORLDWIDE 2024-2028, Sarasota Ballet brings a selection of ballets by The Royal Ballet’s Founder Choreographer back to the Royal Opera House. Former dancers with The Royal Ballet, Iain Webb and Margaret Barbieri (Sarasota Ballet’s Director and Assistant Director respectively) have first-hand experience of the Ashton repertoire. Their aim is to preserve what they show to be the choreographer’s rich legacy.

The ballets in this programme – performed to recorded music – cover a period from 1931 to 1985. The first, Valses nobles et sentimentales, is from 1947. To music by Ravel (recorded music is used for all the ballets) and with designs by Sophie Fedorovitch, it presents the anxious groupings and regroupings of ten dancers who sometimes mirror each other’s positions, as if unable to connect, on either side of semi-transparent screens. Its central pas de trois (Ashton’s favoured pas de trois of a woman and two men) restlessly continues behind one of the screens as the curtain falls.

If there was a moment of uncertainty in this opening piece, the two dancers of Friday’s Child from Jazz Calendar (1968), the first of five Divertissements that followed, were confident from start to finish. In bodysuits and skull caps of red and blue designed by Derek Jarman, they move to the music of Richard Rodney Bennett through the knotty configuration of arms that characterise many of Ashton’s pas de deux as if working out a mathematical problem.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee (1977), to music by Percy Grainger, starts as another pas de trois before the female dancer exits, leaving the two men, in padded costumes and schoolboy caps, to their ironic pas de deux with its moments of slapstick and reference to the Dance of the Cygnets in Swan Lake. The icy homoeroticism of Sacred Love Pas de Cinq from Illuminations could not come as more of a contrast. Created on New York City Ballet in 1950, with music by Benjamin Britten and designs by Cecil Beaton, it is the highlight of the evening. Not least for the sudden shift in position of the ballerina, by the men supporting her, at the end.

La Chatte Métamorphosée en Femme (1985) is a tour de force danced largely on pointe by a single female dancer (Kennedy Falyn Cassada) to music by Jacques Offenbach. A humorous tour de force that sees the cat/woman give the audience a knowing look before sharpening her claws on the fabric of the chaise longue near her (exactly as a cat would), and jumping on to it when a large, mechanical mouse scurries across the stage.

The final divertissement is Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet. Ashton’s ‘intimate’ Romeo and Juliet, created in 1955 to the Prokofiev score for The Royal Danish Ballet. In his variation Maximiliano Iglesias’s Romeo has the sweeping arms of Isadora Duncan, a dancer Ashton admired.

Sarasota Ballet’s Façade © Frank Atura

The programme ends with Façade (1931), to music by William Walton. Here the twenty-seven-year-old choreographer seems to stay close to waltzes, polkas, foxtrots and tangos. Yet there is something of La Fille mal gardée (1960) in the scene of the milkmaid and the three men; something remarkably playful and inventive, already, in the transformation of the men into a single cow with udders (the fingers of one) and tail (the arm of another). This bears out dancer Annabel Farjeon’s comment on the choreographer at work: ‘It was as though we were shapes with whom he was playing or experimenting, as a little boy might.’

John O’Dwyer

Valses nobles et sentimentales
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – Maurice Ravel
Dancers – Jennifer Hackbarth, Ricardo Graziano, Dominque Jenkins, Emelia Perkins, Samuel Gest, Josh Fisk, Paige Young, Sierra Abelardo, Evan Gorbell, Daniel Pratt


Friday’s Child from Jazz Calendar
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – Richard Rodney Bennett
Dancers – Marijana Dominis, Ricardo Rhodes

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – Percy Grainger
Dancers – Dominique Jenkins, Evan Gorbell, Yuki Nonaka

Sacred Love Pas de Cinq from Illuminations
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – Benjamin Britten
Dancers – Jessica Assef, Ivan Spitale, Joshua Fickling, Israel Ellis, Mihai Costache

La Chatte Métamorphosée en Femme
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – Jacques Offenbach
Dancer – Kennedy Falyn Cassada

Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – Sergei Prokofiev
Dancers – Jennifer Hackbarth, Maximiliano Iglesias

Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – William Walton
Dancers – Sierra Abelardo, Evan Gorbell, Emelia Perkins, Gabriella Schultze, Andrea Marcelletti, Josh Fisk, Mihai Costache, Macarena Gimenez, Dominique Jenkins, Anna Pellegrino, Israel Ellis, Joshua Fickling, Lauren Ostrander, Willa Frantz, Alessandra Nova, Savannah Campbell, Daniel Pratt, Mischa Goodman, Jessica Assef, Ricardo Graziano

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