The first piece, Balanchine's "Serenade," set to Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings," was a luminescent piece of pure classical dance, with Balanchine's typical musicality matched by the fluidity of the dancers. A couple of humorous touches -- a dancer purposely falls on her face at one point -- somehow enhance he piece transcendent beauty.
The ballet, accompanied by the Sarasota Orchestra, next celebrated Benjamin Britten's 100 the birthday with Ashton's "Illuminations," with music by Britten and lyrics taken from Rimbaud poems. It's a wonderfully surreal narrative piece of comedy and drama. It would be tempting to call it Felliniesque, except that Ashton created it in1950, before Fellini as influential.
The final piece, Balanchine's "Who Cares?," just didn't seem to fit. It's set to a series of 15 Gershwin songs, and the pop flavor of the music and the dance felt at odds with the sublime pleasures of the first two works.
There were some fine moments of dance, though, especially in several pas de deux, and the piece was an undeniable crowd-pleaser.
The orchestra, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, sound gorgeous throughout the evening, and seemed as comfortable with Gershwin as with Britten.
There are two more performances, at 2 and 8 p.m. today (Saturday, Nov 23) at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $33.25-$100. Call 941-359.0099, ext.101 or go to www.sarasotaballet.org.