Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Cultivating

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Cultivating

Article excerpt

a delightful new 'Garden'

The best of children's literature creates a world both realistic and imaginative, populates it with irresistible characters who become friends, and leaves a subtle, but profound, message. Since its first publication in 1911, Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden" -- the story of an orphaned girl who finds her salvation in a neglected garden and the power of love to overcome loss -- has done just that for millions of readers the world over.

The Sarasota Ballet set itself a considerable challenge in turning this much beloved work into a full-length dance/theater production and, on most accounts, it succeeds nicely. Inevitably, the premiere revealed a few flaws, but with a little tweaking, it could well become as enduring a classic in the dance world as Hodgson's book is in the literary.

There is little to be critiqued in the spot-on choreography by Will Tuckett, the captivating score by Jeremy Holland-Smith or the cleverly rolling sets and period-perfect costuming by Tim Meacock (created by the Asolo Rep's costume and set shops); they are all delightful, accessible and appealing.

Nor does the sparkling cast deserve anything but praise; it's increasingly clear this is a company not only of proficient dancers, but highly capable actors. Jessica Cohen as the orphan Mary, on stage for virtually the entire two acts, covered the range of her character convincingly, changing from a petulant brat to a charming altruist over the course of two hours. Ricardo Graziano as her friend Dickon made a fine "aw shucks" country boy; Kate Honea, a splendidly shrewish housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock; Ricki Bertoni, a grouchy, bowlegged gardener, Ben Weatherstaff; and Alex Harrison, a coddled invalid, Colin, whom the garden restores to health.

And oh, the puppets! What child is not going to adore Toby Olie's larger-than-life, dancer-manipulated rabbits, birds and -- most of all -- the fox, wielded so authentically by Calvin Farias (head) and Patrick Ward (tail). …

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