Emily’s legs

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - Michael Wade Simp­son

For Emily Proc­tor, one of the youngest, new­est com­pany mem­bers at Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, just be­ing in the room with Twyla Tharp was enough. The com­pany had con­tracted with the chore­og­ra­pher’s foun­da­tion to per­form her loosey-goosey bal­let Sue’s Leg, with mu­sic per­formed and in some cases writ­ten by Fats Waller. When Tharp learned that ASFB would be in New York for an en­gage­ment at the Joyce The­ater, she ex­pressed an in­ter­est in work­ing with the dancers.

Tom Moss­brucker, ASFB’s artis­tic di­rec­tor, re­calls the Tharp saga well. “It is very un­usual that Twyla would get in­volved in a re­con­struc­tion of one of her dances— usu­ally she just sends some­one out. But in this case, know­ing that we would be in New York, she de­cided that she would re­hearse us. She started off by chang­ing all the cast­ing.”

Proc­tor said that “Twyla had orig­i­nally chore­ographed a part for her­self in this bal­let, but I was learn­ing a dif­fer­ent part, and I was third cast. I didn’t ever ex­pect to go on. At re­hearsal the first day, af­ter she had worked with the first and sec­ond cast, she just asked the rest of us to dance around while she watched, and so I did and that was that.

“In New York, we were re­hears­ing dur­ing the day with Twyla and per­form­ing at night, and I came down with a hor­ri­ble flu. I called Tom and said I thought I should skip the Sue’s Leg re­hearsal, stay in bed, and rest, so I would be able to per­form that night. He agreed but called back later and said Twyla wanted me there.”

Moss­brucker con­tin­ued: “Twyla told us that Emily was the right one to dance her own part. We rolled our eyes, be­cause she was mess­ing with our own de­ci­sions. But later, when Emily re­cov­ered from her flu, and we were back in re­hearsal, we re­al­ized that Twyla had been ex­actly right.”

Proc­tor, now in her third sea­son with Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, joined the com­pany al­most straight out of Juil­liard, af­ter a sum­mer tour­ing with Mikhail Barysh­nikov. This year, Proc­tor was in­cluded in Dance Mag­a­zine’s “25 to Watch,” an an­nual list of the bright­est up-and­com­ers in the dance world. When she was looking for a job af­ter grad­u­a­tion, she con­tacted Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, and Moss­brucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty, the com­pany’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, met Proc­tor in New York. Moss­brucker said that “when we look for new dancers, we look for peo­ple first. This com­pany is about the peo­ple in it. Then what they con­vey on stage. Hon­esty in a per­for­mance is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant qual­ity a dancer can have.

“I got to see Emily per­form at her Juil­liard se­nior project,” he con­tin­ued. “Even in a large group of dancers, the eye went to her. It was a large group piece, and she was in the back, but the eye went to her. There’s some­thing re­ally spe­cial about her. I can’t de­scribe what it is.”

The bal­let com­pany that Moss­brucker and Malaty have built con­tin­ues to grow and change with the ad­di­tion of dancers like Proc­tor, trained in a par­tic­u­lar way— with a solid clas­si­cal tech­nique but with the ver­sa­til­ity to han­dle ev­ery­thing from mod­ern-dance floor work to the hip move­ments of the samba. Aspen’s dancers are also comfortable work­ing in the com­pany’s egal­i­tar­ian setup. It is a small, star­less group, cur­rently with 10 dancers. Every­one dances in ev­ery­thing, and they tour con­stantly.

Proc­tor made the de­ci­sion to go to col­lege to study dance in­stead of join­ing the corps of a re­gional bal­let com­pany out of high school, and her in­stincts have served her well. “I’ve been very, very lucky to have new chore­og­ra­phy built on me,” she said. “If I hadn’t gone to Juil­liard and then come to Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, I never would have had the op­por­tu­nity to work with chore­og­ra­phers in this way. I love danc­ing new works, be­cause you have to have the tech­nique of clas­si­cal bal­let, but there is a dif­fer­ent mind-set. I like the ath­leti­cism of the dances, and you get to move with more free­dom.”

The direc­tors not only have a knack for find­ing dancers like Proc­tor, they are bril­liant at build­ing re­la­tion­ships with up-and-com­ing chore­og­ra­phers. Their ten­dency to bring back the same dance mak­ers for sev­eral com­mis­sions means that the chore­og­ra­phers have an idea of who the dancers are and how best to use their tal­ents, Moss­brucker said. That cre­ates more in­ter­est­ing art.

The com­pany’s reper­tory list reads like an honor roll of 20th-and 21st-cen­tury chore­o­graphic ge­nius. Those who have set new work on the dancers in­clude David Par­sons, Ed­waard Liang, Ni­colo Fonte, Dwight Rhoden, Jorma Elo, He­len Pick­ett, Moses Pendle­ton, and Trey McIn­tyre. The com­pany has also per­formed es­tab­lished works by Ge­orge Balan­chine, Lar Lubovitch, Paul Tay­lor, and Ger­ald Ar­pino.

Proc­tor has thrived in such an en­vi­ron­ment. “Jorma Elo is such a plea­sure to work with. He has a very unique style. His dances are re­ally fun to do— the ro­botic qual­ity he uses is like an es­cape. Twyla was assertive and con­fi­dent in a fas­ci­nat­ing way. It was in­ter­est­ing to see how she took her own, in­tense per­son­al­ity and chan­neled it into move­ment. He­len Pick­ett is very fo­cused on foot­work; her chore­og­ra­phy is very en­er­getic, with crisp lines. It pushed me. Cayetano Soto, from Barcelona, cre­ated a fan­tas­tic piece, Fugaz, us­ing samba mu­sic. Danc­ing that piece makes me re­al­ize how much I love my job.”

When the com­pany per­forms at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Fri­day and Satur­day, March 12 and 13, Proc­tor will be danc­ing in all the pieces, in­clud­ing one com­mis­sion. Pick­ett, an Amer­i­can dancer and ac­tor who worked with William Forsythe’s cut­ting-edge (and now de­funct) Bal­let Frankfurt for more than 10 years, cre­ated Trace us­ing pi­ano mu­sic by Rach­mani­noff. “Beau­ti­ful” is a word Moss­brucker uses care­fully. “Most con­tem­po­rary bal­let can be called strik­ing, in­tense, haunt­ing,” he said. “But He­len has cre­ated a beau­ti­ful piece.” The dance is based on duets with four cou­ples. The women are on point, and the com­bi­na­tion of move­ment, mu­sic, and rich colors, he said, cre­ates “a ro­man­tic, lush piece of chore­og­ra­phy.”

Fonte has cre­ated six pieces for Aspen Santa Fe. In Hid­den Sec­onds is new to the com­pany, but it was the first chore­og­ra­phy Moss­brucker and Malaty saw by Fonte, on video­tape, in 1999. “At the time, we loved the piece,” Moss­brucker said, “but thought there was no way our dancers could han­dle the chore­og­ra­phy. He cre­ated it for dancers from Na­cho Du­ato’s com­pany in Spain. Th­ese were some of the finest dancers in the world. We con­tacted Ni­colo and asked him to cre­ate a dance for us, then an­other, then an­other. We have re­ally en­joyed not only his chore­og­ra­phy but the way that he works with the dancers, in­di­vid­u­ally and as a group. He brings a Euro­pean vo­cab­u­lary and aes­thetic. Now, we feel the com­pany has risen to a level re­quired for that first piece.

“Ni­colo chore­ographed this dance piece when he was get­ting heav­ily into yoga,” Moss­brucker said, “so there is this highly phys­i­cal chore­og­ra­phy com­bined with the deep breath­ing and re­lax­ation of yoga. Plus, the mu­sic, by John Tavener, has a Zen-like qual­ity. It’s very per­sonal.”

Also on the pro­gram is Six Dances by Jiríˇ Kylián, a hu­mor­ous piece to Mozart that the com­pany pre­sented for the first time last sea­son. “Kylián is a ge­nius in ev­ery way,” said Moss­brucker. “We like the sense of fun in this piece— every­one has been so down be­cause of the econ­omy.”

“Kylián’s work just flows,” said Proc­tor. “All the best dancers in the world have danced this piece. It’s a fa­mous crowd pleaser.”

Fill­ing Twyla’s Capezios: Emily Proc­tor in Sue’s Leg

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