Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo creates a new work for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Making a ballet to a single piece of music is so last century. Alejandro Cerrudo choreographs playlist dances — he creates sound collages that inform the movement for him. “Then I go into the studio and play with the dancers. I ask, ‘Where does the piece want to go?’ ” On the playlist for his latest work for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, premiering at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Friday, July 10, are pieces by Dustin Hamman, King Creosote, Ólöf Arnalds, and Nils Frahm. “I’d call the style of music rock, or alternative, or just modern,” he said. Also on the program are dances by Jorma Elo and Cayetano Soto.
In residence for three weeks in June at ASFB’s studios in Colorado, Cerrudo was picking up where he had left off in November, when there had been a block of rehearsal time with the company, and he had developed about three-quarters of a piece. But that was then. “I don’t remember anything after 30 seconds, and between last November and now I’ve been incredibly busy.” Cerrudo, originally from Spain, has been resident choreographer for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for seven years, a group he previously danced with. He has created more than a dozen works for that company. This is his second for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
He was also a member of Stuttgart Ballet and Nederlands Dance Theater 2 and now creates works with companies around the world. However, he feels his choreographic center is with Hubbard Street, which, like Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, features a repertoire in a variety of styles. “Classical ballet gives you knowledge about the body, it trains your muscles, it gives you discipline and gives you rules. What’s fun, then, is to break them.”
Since November, there have been changes of personnel taking place in ASFB. Corwin Barnette, who the choreographer worked with last fall, is now a member of Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal. Paul Busch and Peter Franc will perform with ASFB through the summer, and will leave soon after — Busch to join Berlin State Ballet and Franc, Oregon Ballet Theatre. New to the company are Jenelle Figgins, formerly of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Pete Leo Walker, from Charlotte Ballet, and Anthony Tiedeman, a recent Juilliard graduate. The performances at the Lensic will include 14 dancers on stage, the most ASFB has ever had.
All of the newbies were in residence in Aspen at a recent company rehearsal with Cerrudo, and after a week together, they were still being folded into
the piece. “I’m here to reconnect and to enjoy getting to know these dancers,” Cerrudo said. “Regardless of the success of this work, it’s important to cultivate relationships and nourish the work between a company and a choreographer.” Figgins introduced herself with a firm handshake and said she was very happy to be away from New York City. “If I want to get stressed out, I just call my sister while she’s waiting for the subway during rush hour in the morning.” Walker dances with a full-throttled muscularity that complements the kind of attack that company member Joseph Watson is known for. Tiedeman, a technically fluent dancer, has already been given solo material by Cerrudo, which he seemed to master with the facility dancers from Juilliard are trained to have.
Cerrudo took things from the top, and the opening score offered sounds of low volume, grunge-style guitar music with a tick-tock rhythmic percussion underlay. Two men, and then four others, slowly entered to dance, much of the time down on the floor, in patterns that were orderly, often in unison, and with movement that was fluid and athletic — a blend of ballet, yoga, break dancing, and butoh. After Cerrudo paused to ask for a clarification from one of the new dancers, he wanted to know if anyone remembered the exact steps he’d previously come up with for that particular moment. Figgins raised her hand and demonstrated the missing movement with a relaxed artistry. “Can you learn that part? I want you to learn the whole thing,” he said to her. Suddenly a woman was doing a man’s part in a man’s section. Things change and decisions happen fast when a piece is being created on the spot. “Take the time to make it huge,” he told another dancer. “Make it your step.”
In the next section, recorded voices speaking in Cajun dialect cued the company women to enter. The music that followed had New Agey piano chords and a minimalist sound palette. By now, the new dance seemed to have proclaimed itself to be gentler than many of the other pieces in ASFB’s repertoire. An extended duet performed by experienced company members Emily Proctor and Craig Black was lyrical with perhaps a suggestion of romance and certainly a sense of sweetness. The dancers stood for a few long moments facing each other — Black’s hands up in the air in front of him, Proctor suddenly grasping him by the wrists, holding him as if there were some message for her touch to deliver through his skin.
Later, as the music changed, lines of men began rocking their arms and crossing the stage like cartoon characters walking in a hurry. Women traveled on their bellies undulating like earthworms. Later, a line of women on their knees played a rhythmic game of gestures that had the speed and expertise of young girls in a playground, with their well-practiced hand-clap games and jump-rope chants.
Cerrudo still had a couple of weeks of rehearsal. “In terms of the time frame, I just keep working. When I think I have a complete piece, I stop. At this point, I’m still figuring things out. There are key sections of the piece I still don’t know about. I have a good feeling about the piece overall, though.”