With the botanical splendor of the Sarasota Garden Club as backdrop, crustless cucumber sandwiches served on platters, and strongly-steeped tea flowing from a silver urn, the Sarasota Ballet yesterday announced its commission of an original full-length and family-friendly ballet, based on the children's book, "The Secret Garden," that will debut in August.
British choreographer Will Tuckett, who has previously created two original works for the company — "Changing Light" in 2012 and "Lux Aeterna" in 2013 — will begin work in late June on what Artistic Director Iain Webb characterized as a "dance theater" production. The ballet, which will include an actor/narrator who will interact with the audience as well as the dancers on stage, is being designed specifically to serve as an arts education tool for children in the community.
"Every aspect — the design, the music, the dance — will have an educational component," said Webb, who hopes the production will eventually become part of an exchange between Sarasota and other the 14 other cities in the Kennedy Center's "Any Given Child" arts education equality initiative.
The production will debut in August to appeal to year-round ballet audiences; it will be shown to Sarasota County school children in late October, before the beginning of the Asolo Repertory Theatre season. The Asolo shares theater space at the FSU Center for Performing Arts with the ballet, a partnership that makes busing children in for afternoon performances during the school year challenging.
Webb said the production will provide nine additional weeks of work for approximately 20 dancers in the company — beyond their normal 35-week contract — as well as employment for staff of the Asolo Costume Shop, which will be charged with bringing to life the designs created by England's Tim Meacock. The commissioned score will be by Tuckett's friend and frequent collaborater, Jeremy Holland-Smith, who wrote the music for "Changing Light."
"The Secret Garden will be an important stepping stone, not just for the company to dance in the summer, but as a way for there to be some cross-pollination between the 'Any Given Child' cities," Webb said.
Tuckett made a virtual appearance at the event via Skype from his home in London, where it was "pouring rain and about 1 degree (Centigrade)."
"I wish I could be with you," he said, "Because it looks like a gloriously sunny day there and it's certainly not here."
Tuckett said he had met in recent weeks with Meacock, who has been purchasing costume fabrics; Holland-Smith, who has finished the first act score; and Middleton, who is completing the script. He also mentioned that he had dined the previous evening with the executive director of American Ballet Theatre while her company was in London on tour and told her about the project.
"She was speechless," he said. "And very aware that nobody else in America is doing this."
Webb said his original thought, several years ago, was to bring Tuckett's "Wind in the Willows," a full-length, family-oriented ballet created 11 years ago, to Sarasota. But after its London premiere, the production eventually moved to London's West End, where it has just completed a multi-year run and been nominated for two Olivier awards (England's equivalent of America's Tony awards).
The entire cost of the production — currently estimated at $520,000 including everything from choreography and music to dancer salaries — is above and beyond the ballet's regular seasonal budget. Managing director Mary Anne Servian said the hope is that sponsorships will cover the entire cost of the commission by the time of its world premiere on August 8.
The ballet will be reprised in October as the opening program of the Sarasota Ballet's regular 2014-2015 season.
What: "The Secret Garden," a full-length, family-oriented ballet based on the children's book by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Who: Commissioned by Sarasota Ballet from British choreographer Will Tuckett, with music by Jeremy Holland-Smith, design by Tim Meacock (created by the Asolo Costume Shop) and story by Alasdair Middleton
When: The ballet will debut August 8; it will be reprised as the opening program of the Sarasota Ballet's 2014-2015 season
How much: The estimated budget, including original choreography, design, music and salaries for the dancers, is $520,000