There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to collecting. The first is the completionist in which one gathers everything without regard to quality in order to have the complete set. The second is to selectively accumulate only the very best pieces so that each example is a treasure. Sarasota Ballet seems more inclined toward the completionist school of thought judging by the program presented at the Joyce Theater. Billed as A Knight of the British Ballet, the evening of Sir Frederick Ashton ballets showed the perils of assuming that everything made by a genius needs to be saved.

Ricardo Graziano, Danielle Brown and Jamie Carter in <i>Valses Nobles et Sentimentales</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Ricardo Graziano, Danielle Brown and Jamie Carter in Valses Nobles et Sentimentales
© Yi-Chun Wu

Ashton’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales from 1947 opened the show. When new it must have been quite appealing with its undertones of early 19th-century grace overlaced with the House of Dior’s glamorous post-war costume designs. In the present, it looks more like a ballet interlude from a 1940s MGM musical. Colorful, expressive, moody and not very technically challenging. It’s not that there’s anything substantively wrong with it but rather that it hasn’t aged well.

Alex Harrison, Samantha Benoit, and Logan Learned in <i>Tweedledum and Tweedledee</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Alex Harrison, Samantha Benoit, and Logan Learned in Tweedledum and Tweedledee
© Yi-Chun Wu

The middle of the program sandwiched four fragments of works separated by pauses. Tweedledum and Tweedledee is a short pièce d’occasion that features the comic characters from Alice in Wonderland dancing like buffoons around Alice. Humorous enough but you wouldn’t miss it if you never saw it again. Then came The Walk to Paradise Garden, a lovely pas de deux that paired Ryoko Sadoshima and Ricardo Rhodes. The couple needed more rehearsal as miscues caused it to fall short of its choreographic potential. I was too aware of every hand change and weight shift as they moved from one turn or lift to another. The piece loses its lyric effectiveness if you’re too aware of the mechanics and that was the case here.

Friday's Child from Jazz Calendar came third and the pas de deux was enjoyable enough that I would like to see the entire work. Closing the middle of the program was the second movement of Sinfonietta, the highlight of the evening for me. It continues where Monotones left off, exploring some of the same choreographic ideas in more depth. It’s an expression of balletic modernism in which the female character seldom touches the ground. It’s a transporting piece of work that deserves to be performed by more companies.

Danielle Brown and David Tlaiye in <i>Façade</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Danielle Brown and David Tlaiye in Façade
© Yi-Chun Wu

Façade closed the show with a succession of stock characters descended from the English music hall tradition. For the most part it condescendingly lampoons cultural stereotypes with a camp sensibility. The most enjoyable segments were the Polka with Nicole Padilla and the Popular Song which paired Sam O’Brien and Kyle Hiyoshi who also danced the roles of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. On the whole, however, it looked as though the dancers were having more fun than the audience.

Thematic programs like this succeed or fail based on content, not on concepts. In this case, Sarasota Ballet’s all Ashton program relied too much on nostalgia for its appeal. A few of the pieces are either looking dated or weren’t that great to begin with. Taken as a collection it was uneven. Ashton was a genius and no one disputes that but not everything he created was created equal.

***11