Heaven at home

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - — Michael Wade Simp­son

Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let may be the finest mod­ern dance com­pany in Amer­ica. In Europe, where the dis­tinc­tion be­tween mod­ern dance and bal­let dis­ap­peared with the ad­vent of chore­og­ra­phers like William Forsythe, Jiríˇ Kylián, Na­cho Du­ato, and oth­ers, dancers are trained in the bal­let tra­di­tion, but the dances be­ing cre­ated and pre­sented, for the most part, look a lot more like mod­ern dance — that is, no rules ap­ply, no holds are barred, and there are no tu­tus and no Tchaikovsky. The same could eas­ily be said of Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let (if it weren’t for the com­pany’s an­nual Nutcracker con­cert).

What a fan­tas­tic group of dancers, and what in­tel­li­gent, risk-tak­ing, and fresh chore­og­ra­phy they present. It’s a shame that Santa Feans will pay good money to see a thread­bare tour­ing pro­duc­tion by a third-rate Rus­sian com­pany do­ing fa­mil­iar fare poorly and leave empty seats in the house for a re­gional com­pany pre­sent­ing top-notch danc­ing and vi­brant, in­ter­est­ing, orig­i­nal works by some of to­day’s best young chore­og­ra­phers. ASFB’s March 12 per­for­mance was a cul­tural high­light for any­one truly in­ter­ested in dance.

Ni­colo Fonte, a New Yorker who spent many years with Du­ato and his Com­pañia Na­cional de Danza in Madrid, has cre­ated half a dozen works for the Aspen Santa Fe dancers and for many of the finest bal­let com­pa­nies in the world. This time, how­ever, ASFB went back to a piece he cre­ated for Du­ato’s com­pany in 1999, In Hid­den Sec­onds (orig­i­nally En los Se­gun­dos Ocul­tos). It is a stun­ning work.

Set to aus­tere, haunt­ing mu­sic from John Tavener’s The Pro­tect­ing Veil, a work for cello and strings that ex­plores Greek Or­tho­dox rit­ual, the dance, for the en­tire com­pany, has its own sense of med­i­ta­tive ground­ing, from which ec­static move­ment re­peat­edly erupts, and the stage sud­denly fills with 10 bodies hurtling, in fan­tas­tic uni­son, through the hal­lowed space.

Us­ing an up­stage cur­tain di­vided into elas­tic sec­tions, the chore­og­ra­pher de­fies the spa­tial pat­tern of tra­di­tional dances, which travel hor­i­zon­tally, from wing to wing. Fonte’s dancers sim­ply step for­ward, into the space, travel through the light, and then dis­ap­pear quickly, back­ing into black­ness. This pat­tern shift of­fers dis­ori­en­ta­tion with ben­e­fits, a kind of spa­tial hyp­nother­apy. Al­though this was never ex­pressed through tacky mimed ges­tures or steps, in its much sub­tler way, the re­con­fig­ured mo­tion sug­gested a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion, some­thing be­yond.

Women in gray, robey out­fits and shirt­less men in loin­cloth-like pants sug­gested bib­li­cal im­agery, al­though the ad­di­tional ef­fect of the cos­tum­ing (by Fonte and Is­mael Az­nar) along with the shad­owy lighting (by Ni­cholas Fis­ch­tel) was the best ad­ver­tise­ment for ab­dom­i­nals this side of an in­fomer­cial. And yet, there was not a whiff of the gra­tu­itous to the piece, be­cause the move­ment in­ven­tion was con­tin­u­ally sur­pris­ing, won­der­fully ex­e­cuted by the com­mit­ted dancers of the com­pany, and ex­pertly com­bined with the Tavener mu­sic to reach a cathar­tic mo­men­tum. This is a work that de­serves to be seen again and again.

An AFSB-com­mis­sioned world pre­miere, Trace by He­len Pick­ett, was more prob­lem­atic. Her mu­sic (uniden­ti­fied Rach­mani­noff and Ligeti pi­ano pieces) and lighting (by Seah John­son) were also of the moody, shadow-filled va­ri­ety, but the move­ment, while quirky and full of in­ter­est­ing part­ner­ing, seemed to be al­most in a chore­o­graphic bat­tle with any ten­dency to­ward ease, release, or still­ness. Pick­ett is in­ter­ested in iso­lat­ing body parts, cre­at­ing dis­jointed, asym­met­ri­cal move­ment — there is never the sense of mass uni­son that Fonte is so suc­cess­ful at. Hers is a highly caf­feinated style of chore­og­ra­phy that, while in­con­gru­ous with the an­gu­lar­i­ties of the 20th-cen­tury pi­ano selections pre­sented, is not par­tic­u­larly dark and moody. Stark lighting and black leo­tards might work bet­ter.

The dancers, nev­er­the­less, were com­pletely adept at all the ar­tic­u­la­tions and fu­ri­ous foot­work put forth by Pick­ett. A quin­tet for Emily Proc­tor and four men — William Can­non, Sam Chit­ten­den, Seth DelGrasso, and Joseph Wat­son — was par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing. The cos­tum­ing, in rich pur­ples, by Austin Scar­lett, and the use of toe shoes by the women — Katherine Bo­laños, Katie Dehler, Sa­man­tha Klanac, and Proc­tor — seemed to sug­gest, for a mo­ment, some­thing more tra­di­tion­ally “bal­letic,” but Pick­ett wasn’t buy­ing or sell­ing that — not at all.

The ath­letic, Euro­pean aes­thetic the chore­og­ra­pher was ex­posed to as a lead­ing Forsythe bal­le­rina is some­thing that looks a bit forced here. If she is still search­ing for her own voice as a chore­og­ra­pher, per­haps a few more mo­ments of still­ness and bodies that oc­ca­sion­ally move with in­te­gra­tion in­stead of iso­la­tion might of­fer bal­ance to danc­ing that is suc­cess­ful as a twitchy wrestling match in space but rarely cre­ates res­onat­ing im­agery.

Six Dances by Kylián com­pleted the pro­gram. Pow­dered wigs, bub­bles, hoop skirts on rollers, and Mozart all com­bine into a frothy en­ter­tain­ment that never ceases to cause dance audiences to laugh out loud. The ASFB dancers were care­ful comics, never let­ting their faces do the work their bodies were de­signed to do by the chore­og­ra­pher, not just a mas­ter of com­edy but also of stage­craft. Nolan DeMarco McGa­han, Seia Rassenti, and all the per­form­ers men­tioned ear­lier war­rant ku­dos for their ful­lthrot­tle per­for­mances in all three works of the evening.

Six Dances

Wigged out: Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let in Jiˇrí Kylián’s

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