REVIEW: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers shine at home

Dance · Reviews

Tuesday evening at the Aspen District Theatre was an adults-only affair, in a wonderful way. Local heroes Aspen Santa Fe Ballet rolled out a three-part program of notable sophistication and artistic distinction. The attentive audience, fortunate to co-habit a beautiful Rocky Mountain city with a world-class ballet company, took it in thoughtfully—it’s something you feel in the room. On offer was a meaty line-up of repertory works by three leading living choreographers: Cayetano Soto, Alejandro Cerrudo, and Jorma Elo. But the takeaway was less about brilliant choreography, although that naturally figured in. What came across is how superbly twelve ASFB dancers grapple with the tools that choreographers provide, rendering a touching and communicative artistic experience. To a member, these dancers are fine artists; as a company, an elite crew.

The ASFB’ers do masterful digging into Cayetano Soto’s “Beautiful Mistake,” a honey of a ballet commissioned in 2013, in which individual dancers plumb the ballet’s rich elements. So much is in place to make this work hum. It has beautiful production design, with elegant brown cutaway costumes by Nete Joseph, topping up bare legs for all. Seah Johnson’s sensitive light scheme enhances the chic look. Soto was in a zone when he formed his building blocks, a series of daring, angular, off-kilter shapes, which marvelously cohere. Assemblages pour forth, sometimes low to the ground with dancers in deep lunges decorated with tree-branch, splintered-looking arms; alternately, women, in high lifts, strike all sorts of topsy-turvy poses, anchored by ASFB’s truly chivalrous men. The ballet’s crisp delivery makes it easy to imbibe and the good deal of breathing room gets rapidly addressed by the interpretive juice of the skilled Aspen Santa Fe dancers. Peter Franc and Katherine Bolanos, both hyper-alert performers, make much of Soto’s shapely choreography. Samantha Campanile, the company’s senior-most member, squiggles with discernible pleasure (she is dancing in very good form). Bolanos, who seems to derive particular inspiration from “Mistake” (perhaps better shortened as “Beautiful”), was ably partnered by Nolan McGahan in a thicket of lifts. (My prior, also glowing, review of “Beautiful” here.)

Alejandro Cerrudo’s new ballet for the company, “Silent Ghost,” which follows his marvelous “Last” (2011), though warmly received, is mostly a miss. The work, a pastiche of four dark and disparate sections, spools in search of connective tissue. It starts so promisingly, to the sound of a funky, twanging guitar auguring something sexy and hip. But after three men enjoy it, this atmosphere dissipates. The remaining sound score is extremely thin aural gruel. Fresh ideas come as dancers form a downstage queue, sending visual smoke signals with their bodies, in “SOS” or hieroglyphic messages. But after toying with this idea, Cerrudo drops it; thereafter, “Silent” meanders through duets and groups that segregate men from women to no real end, and feature too much unison dancing. (The company’s massive male power goes untapped in this work.) The Cerrudo pas de deux, the choreographer’s strong suit in which a man motors the stage, sweeping and swinging a woman as a body appendage, is present in “Silent Ghost.” But we’ve seen it before, both in “Last” and more recently in Wendy Whelan’s “Restless Creature.”

1ts Flash Photo Shoot

A restaging of Jorma Elo’s “First Flash” (2003) closed the program. It is a very big ballet, confidently staged on a generous canvas to important music (Sibelius violin concerto broadcast too loudly). It provides a tremendous showcase for the post-neoclassical chops of the ASFB dancers, not one of whom appeared daunted by Elo’s relentless high speed, nor his pairing of idiosyncratic quirky footwork with tweaky hands. The big event of “1st Flash” was a first viewing of a pair of superb new ASFB dancers. Jenelle Figgins, a stunner, a very gifted and graceful dancer, simply gobbled the stage in solo exposure. The explosive Pete Leo Walker (strongly built, he’s beefy) whose break-dance background overlaid by classical training should make him the muse of a well-equipped dance maker of tomorrow. Also exquisite in “1st Flash” is Seia Rassenti, whose sweet temperament and voluptuous curves contrast to her no-nonsense Russian ballet placement; wonderful to see her nail her turns and vamp with panache.

Other ASFB dancers merit shout-outs. Craig Black! Always on the money, a wonderful performer. Joseph Watson, his dramatic presence compelling. Emily Proctor, fleet footed, mixing the weighted with the ethereal. Steady Sadie Brown.

Photo credit: Rosalie O’Connor for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

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