The Aspen Santa Fe ballet is such a small company, and there has been so much turn-over lately (Craig Black, Sadie Brown, Paul Busch and Peter Franc are all relative newbies, replacing long-time members Sam Chittendon, Katie Dehler and founding member Seth Del Grasso) that part of the interest in watching an ASFB performance in 2014, is seeing not only how the new crew dances, but how the choreographers choose to employ their talents.
All three pieces presented Friday and Saturday at the Lensic were commissioned by AFSB and developed on company dancers. Many other regional companies are forced by economic factors to serve, basically, as recycling acts. That a ten-person dance company based in two small cities has the ability to attract and pay up-and-coming European and American choreographers is a testament to the directors, Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty, whose taste in dancers as well as choreographers is a brilliant balance between practicality (budget and scale) and vision.
Which is not to say that every evening at the Aspen Santa Fe ballet is an artistic life-changer. Repeat performances of “Fold by Fold,” choreographed by the young American discovery Norbert De La Cruz III and “Beautiful Mistake,” by Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto, along with a new work by Nicolo Fonte (his tenth creation on the company), “The Heart(s)pace,” were strong on visual elements and powerful dancing, less commanding in the sense of complete, organic development of themes. There is a difference between movement invention and artistic resonance.
Fonte’s piece, which he described in an interview for the “Aspen Times Weekly” as being inspired by the death of his father, of heart failure, and of the practice, in yoga, of heart-based openings and spiritual connection, does offer sunlight and lyrical movement to the stage, a departure for this choreographer. A wall erected on stage-right offered huge porthole windows which were flooded with light (lighting design for all three pieces by Seah Johnson was inspired) and served as a place where dancers would occasionally stop, as if looking out. The texture from all this golden glow seemed to inform movement that was rounded-out, offered a softer attack and featured more flowing transitions than Santa Fe has seen in previous Fonte pieces. It was as if the angst has lifted. Finally.
Each of the dancers in the current company offers not only a self-assured presence on stage, but striking dancing. Veterans Katerine Bolaños and Samantha Klanac Campanile combine authority, a sensual edge and consistently beautiful phrasing. Emily Proctor is a tiny dancer with a huge voice, at least physically, while Seia Rassenti continues to emerge as the most exciting dancer on stage. Her journey upwards as an artist has been continuous and gratifying to witness. Sadie Brown, in her first season, is getting an opportunity to shine in new works as well as roles she has taken over for Dehler. She looks at home in this movement.
Joseph Watson continues to offer an athleticism and commitment that sizzle in practically every moment on stage. Seven-year veteran Nolan Demarco McGahan offers his own strongly masculine presence and excellent partnering skills. Of the “new” men, Peter Franc looks like a pig in clover after being released from years of chorus and “demi-soloist” duties at Houston Ballet. Craig Black has the technical chops that a Juilliard School education offers, while Paul Busch is more “out-there,” in both idiosyncratic personal style as well as a more hyper-extended physicality. It’s a great blend of energies.