The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company, residing in two homes in Aspen, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, made a special one-night only appearance at the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance on Saturday night (October 5), as part of the Theater’s “Harris at 10” celebratory program. With their guarantee of ingenious works– the company has no regular house choreographer, ensuring a constant mix of fresh talents — skilled dancers, and modern yet loosely-balletic framework, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company is a gem for the Harris. If you appreciate quality contemporary dance, infused with some balletic form but not nearly “strict classical,” this company is a true pleasure, constantly engaging and holding the audience’s attention. Led by Artistic Director Tom Mossbrucker and Executive Director Jean-Philippe Malaty, their dancers showcase a variety of strengths, sharp yet fluid, technically sound yet each bringing in their own creativity as artists.
The evening was comprised of three works: Over Glow, by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo; Beautiful Mistake, by Cayetano Soto; and Last, by Alejandro Cerrudo. Over Glow presents six dancers moving, at various points in the program, both gracefully and then almost rapturously, to the music of German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven. Soto’s Beautiful Mistake, to the music of Olafur Arnalds and Charles Wilson, twentieth century composers, features nine dancers in what appears to be a higher-class nightclub or ballroom. Finally, Last (which has not always been presented last when the company performs, although it was on Saturday) presents eight dancers in gray-black-royal blue costuming against an dark backdrop, set to music by Henryk Gorecki, a twentieth-century Polish composer of [modern] classical music. To witness works by this lineup of choreographers was in and of itself a treat; although I personally will never “divorce” my passion for the strict classical ballet or the neoclassical ballet genre, each of these choreographers—Elo, Soto and Cerrudo (in order of their piece) — are masterful artists in their own right, bringing freshness and innovation to contemporary dance. Elo, a former dancer with the Netherlands Dance Theater, the Finnish National Ballet and the Cullberg Ballet, has received numerous prestigious awards for his choreography, including at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition and recognition from Dance, Pointe and Esquire magazines. He has been commissioned for works by some of the leading ballet companies internationally and nationally. Soto, born in Spain and now based in Munich, has collaborated with over a dozen international companies, and has been commissioned regularly by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, as well as Introdans Ensemble voor de jeugd, since 2009. Soto also works extensively with the fashion label Talbot Runhof, using the designer in his Carmen and Sortijas and choreographing for the Paris fashion week. In 2008, the most esteemed newspaper in Brazil hailed his Canela Fina as the best dance production of the year, based on audience and critics alike. Spanish-born Cerrudo became the first Resident Choreographer of
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2009. He was the force behind key collaborations between Hubbard Street and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and NederlandsDansTheater, and his works have likewise been commissioned by international and national companies.
Of all the pieces, Last was the most enduring, weaving both the dancers’ solid technique skills and the ability of dance to act as a medium for emotion and pathos. Perhaps, as a Chicagoan, I carried a pre-bias for the work choreographed by Hubbard’s Cerrudo, but I don’t think so; it was simply the most beautiful, harmonious with the music, and emotionally moving with the pas de deux by dancers Joseph Watson and Katie Dehler (soon to retire). Although their was some tension in the pas, it still created the synergy of two bodies as one, the unionizing force of dance that is one of its most captivating and significant elements. Last also included choreography that was similar to the magnificient moves of figure skating pairs, breathtaking in their romanticism and skill. The corps also moved with precision, grace and strength; there is one part where they almost seem to float together with a simple yet incredibly light gazelle-like movement about the stage.
While I enjoyed the first and second works, the music in Last was also the most fitting to the music. In Over Glow, the classical music of Beethoven and Mendelssohn is juxtaposed to movement that is often far from classical. There are some exquisite balletic parts, but there are also movements that seemingly mimic birds of prey or even the rapturous like movements in the likes of Jurassic Park. While I value creativity, the juxtaposition in that case was disconcerting to me, especially to the music of composers I consider near-perfect. The dancers’ technique in Over Glow was superb, with perfectly-turned out passes-retires, simultaneous trength and fluidity. However, these were detracted from by the interspersion of the prey-like movements. It was also sometimes difficult to know which couple to focus on. Beautiful Mistake was fascinating, in a style that seemed to combine ballet and various styles of ballroom dance. However, it did not not carry the quite the level of emotional pathos that I valued in Last.
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company is overall, however, a must-see for dance and theater lovers, ensuring that dance is a constant metamorphosis of styles and ideas. You will be engaged in the performance for its innovativeness, even if you don’t fall head-over-heels with every single pieces. While I myself love to bask in the pathos, drama, comedy and tragedy of full-length classical ballets, I also recognize that dance, to thrive and be meaningful as an art form, needs a regular flow of new works and ideas, and this company provides that consistently. Its dancers likewise show an ability to adapt to many different forms while retaining strong technique and grace. Chicago will hopefully be on this company’s tours on a regular basis.