On Saturday at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, the current franchise of European, ballet modernism was front and center in a program with works by Jirí Kylián, Jorma Elo, and Alejandro Cerrudo. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has carved out a name for itself as a portable, hard-working, chamber sized company dedicated to new commissions and a bifurcated presence in Aspen, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. All three of the works, two of them new and one, Kylian’s, Stamping Ground (something of a relic from the beginnings of the Kylian journey) took on a sameness that made you wish for something American from, say, Arpino or Tharp.
Cerrudo’s Last, made stunning use of white, glaring lighting which cropped the stage top to bottom. Last is set against Henryk Górecki’s music, Kleines Requiem, and features a score of varied orchestral sonorities with chamber scaled sections, including intoning churchbells. The music itself does as much as the choreography to create an elegiac mood. What seemed out of place in Last, was a bustling ensemble section choreographed with the flavor of the Keystone Cops. It preceded the best part of the work, a brilliant pas de deux that concludes the piece. That section, danced with truly powerful, mesmerizing, connection by Joseph Watson and Katie Dehler, summed up Cerrudo’s movement aesthetic of crumbling or collapsing weight, falls, and serpentine carries. In the end, Last may simply have been understood as a requiem for those two, isolated dancers who finally disappear at the end, into the darkness.
Stamping Ground (1983) gave you a good idea how a work can travel the distance between innovation and ultimately, looking choreographically dated. It opens with individual solos for the six dancers in silence, accompanied by rhythmic foot and body percussion. It juxtaposes lots of quirky, roiling movement with a light dusting of humor from physical gags. What feels surest in Stamping Ground is the way the dancers set themselves in motion. Like wind up machines, they work through often eccentric movement that spools out while staying closely tied to the hits and punctuations of Carlos Chavez’s toccata for percussion ensemble. The cast of dancers emerge and disappear from behind a glinting, oversized mylar-paneled curtain that had hints of something borrowed from a Vegas floor show.
In Over Glow, which closed the evening, what glowed most were the green and blue costumes by Nete Joseph, and Jordan Tuinman’s sunny, outdoorsy lighting. The work by Jorma Elo, an NDT alumnus, uses orchestral movements from Mendelssohn and Beethoven as backdrop. You felt that generic slow movements loaded with pathos or any bright scherzo would have done as well as those selected by Mr. Elo to tell his story. The work looked more encumbered by its classical score than elevated by it. While the work has elements of humor and profundity it was never clear where the interface was or what meaning the shifting moods might have for us. At the center of Over Glow was a standout section set to the second movement of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. That music was unfortunately cut at its conclusion to make way for the finale, the freewheeling Saltarello from Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. It had the look of a Mark Morris work punking the music but also enough genuine humor and real dance to survive on its own merits. Particularly engaging was dancer Paul Busch. His buoyant on stage bearing and elegant technique made the most of the Mendelssohn’s frothy spirits and Elo’s ersatz ballet vibe.
On Saturday there were too many empty seat seats but the audience was appreciative. The evening played to recorded music that at times boosted volumes and made for painful listening. The compact cast of eleven dancers was both tireless and engaging. By the time the evening finished, you felt that you knew them.
(The reviewed performance took place in Long Beach, CA, on October 13, 2012. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is a contemporary ballet company founded in 1996. They maintain a varied repertory of works by American and European choreographers.The company’s founding Artistic Director is Tom Mossbrucker, who was a principal dancer with Joffrey Ballet.)