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The Royal Ballet's Alexander Campbell and Yasmine Naghdi in Ashton's The Two Pigeons. Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH.

While most ballet casts are 100 percent human, it's not unheard of for live animals to appear onstage, providing everything from stage dressing to supporting roles. Michael Messerer's production of Don Quixote features a horse and a donkey; American Ballet Theatre's Giselle calls for two Russian wolfhounds; and Sir Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee requires a white Shetland pony. Another Ashton masterpiece, The Two Pigeons, is well known for its animal actors. But though ballet is a highly disciplined, carefully choreographed art form, some performers are naturally more prone to flights of fancy—because they're birds.

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Marcelo Gomes and Victoria Hulland in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. Photo Frank Atura, Courtesy Sarasota Ballet.

Last December, in the midst of the #MeToo movement and the scandal surrounding Peter Martins, the ballet world was shocked when longtime American Ballet Theatre principal Marcelo Gomes resigned suddenly. A statement from the company revealed that ABT had learned of an allegation of sexual misconduct against Gomes related to an incident eight years prior. Gomes kept a very low profile in the aftermath before reemerging this spring. He presented a world premiere at The Washington Ballet in March and has been guesting internationally (this summer alone has him dancing in Japan, Mexico and Russia.) Now he will have a new company to call home: The Sarasota Ballet has just announced that Gomes will be joining their company as a guest artist for the 2018-2019 season.

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They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Iain Webb rehearses Victoria Hulland in Sir Fredrick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. Photo Courtesy Sarasota Ballet.

Sarasota Ballet artistic director Iain Webb approached Tony Dyson—owner of Sir Frederick Ashton's Enigma Variations—about obtaining choreographic rights without knowing the historic 1968 ballet had only ever been performed by The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

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