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Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

By Susan Yung

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Joyce Theater, NYC
February 22–27, 2011
Reviewed by Susan Yung


Cayetano Soto's Uneven. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor. Courtesy the Joyce.

 

This 10-dancer troupe offered three works of a certain European modern ballet ilk. Isolated body parts, supple torsos, soft slippers showing off well-shaped feet, and a skewing of the traditional ballet line were shared characteristics.

 

Jirí Kylián pioneered this pliant style, and his Stamping Ground (1983) was on the program. Inspired by Australian Aboriginal traditions, the work is set against a dramatic black mylar car wash-style curtain (a familiar yet effective device), which dancers part to enter and exit, or roll under, disappearing. The first portion was accompanied only by sounds produced with the body—clapping, slapping, breathing, sliding or thumping feet. The costumes were bathing suit shapes tailored with satin tux stripes, and seamed fishnets for the women. Kylián’s elemental forms and lack of affectation kept the choreography continuously rewarding.

 

There are many humorous notes dotting Stamping Ground, something lacking in Cayetano Soto's Uneven (2010), to the music of David Lang (lately a ubiquitous name on dance programs). Evoking the work’s title, a swath of white marley was draped onstage like a tablecloth, with one corner hanging off the apron and another forming a flipped-up backdrop for cellist Kimberly Patterson. In striking white-armed/black-bodiced leotards, the dancers made eye-catching shapes—a leg held in an ultra-high side attitude, a lovely partnered promenade where the woman relevés, knee bent, other foot softly tracing a circle on the floor. But Uneven, like many other dances of this genre, lacked a sense of humanity, and the performers came across as somewhat soulless.

 

Jorma Elo’s Red Sweet (2008) felt like a caffeinated version of Kylián. Set to bright music by Vivaldi and Biber, the movement was bold, brash, often in canon, with frog-leg jumps and straight-limbed barrel turns. Elo sometimes works in gestures and tics, or details like “plucking” the floor with pointed toes, or adding a whipping leg to a leap—extra-dramatic on the statuesque men, in particular. However, Red Sweet so strongly recalled Kylián that it might have been better off separated by another choreographer's work.


What all three ballets certainly proved was the high level of technical skill and artistry by the troupe, which, since its founding in 1995 by artistic director Tom Mossbrucker, has developed a successful business model (essentially having two home bases) as well as a strong aesthetic voice.