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Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Written by:
Michael Wade Simpson
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Performance April 1, 2016
Lensic Performing Arts Center
Santa Fe

Attending an Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performance is a great way to see what is going on in European contemporary ballet without having to travel there. On Friday there were two dances choreographed by Spanish artists, Alejandro Cerrudo and Cayetano Soto, and a piece by Fernando Melo, who is originally from Brazil, but trained in Vienna and has worked in Europe since age 16. All three pieces were commissions created for AFSB, two of them Santa Fe premieres.

“Silent Ghost,” by Cerrudo, which premiered here last July, shows how well the company can grow into a piece after living in it for a while. Several all-male sections gave Anthony Tiedeman, Pete Leo Walker, Joseph Watson, and a new company member, Łukasz Zięba, a Polish dancer who first moved to New York to study on scholarship at the Alvin Ailey School, an opportunity to launch themselves into feats of grace and power on the floor, upside down and in the air. What was also clear was their sensitivity to each other in finely tuned unison passages.

Two duets at the core of the piece suggested romantic currents, but in subtle ways—through touch and gesture, but also through partnering that communicated trust—the kind found in relationships. A second couple, Emily Proctor and Craig Black, echoed themes first developed by Seia Rassenti and Anthony Tiedeman, but then took them further. The piece has a youthful, indie rock and ambient sound score, strong dancing, and emotional truth to it.

“Re:play,” by Melo, was a departure for the company. The moody, innovative lighting design by Seah Johnson (not to mention the person calling the cues for what seemed like a million blackouts) was vital to the cinematic texture of the piece. Emily Proctor walked across stage in a white summer dress, (black out), walked across the stage again (blackout), and then again, seeming never to cover any ground (blackout). Audience members tittered, as if this were some joke.

To a musical score that began annoyingly, with one note on a piano being hit over and over again, the piece developed itself around cross-overs, black-outs, pedestrian movement, and repetition. An enigmatic narrative appeared in the absence of dancing. What caused the girl in the white dress to fall? Why did one man grab another man’s arm as they passed in the street? These were small moments repeated, like ordinary anonymous acts in any crowded city–but with a suggestion of something ominous. In Europe, these days—in Paris, in Belgium, a walk in the street is no longer just a walk. A stranger is no longer just a stranger.

“Huma Rojo, ” the new piece by Cayetano Soto, is a cross between a Zumba class and a Broadway review on a cruise liner. With dancers in matching red outfits (turtlenecks and unbelted slacks) doing matching, jokey choreography without the benefit of interesting spatial patterns or partnering, what remained was a ho-hum piece trying way too hard to be entertaining. The lounge music score was a huge cliché, and attempts at humor consistently fell flat. Twyla Tharp demonstrated in her company’s presentation a few months ago, that comedy requires characterization. Soto chose, on the other hand, to make his dance mostly one anonymous red chorus line. Even the best efforts of the hard-working dancers could not raise this piece above the level of “cute.”

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