Making a ballet to a single piece of music is so last century. Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo makes playlist dances—he creates sound collages, sometimes disparate mixes of music which inform the movement for him. “Then I go into the studio and play with the dancers. I ask, ‘where does the piece want to go?’ he said. On the playlist for his lastest work, premiering at the Lensic on July 10, are pieces by Dustin Hamman, King Creosote, Ólafur Arnaids and Nils Frahm. “I’d call the style of music rock, or alternative, or just modern,” he said.
In residence for three weeks in June at ASFB’s studios in Colorado, Cerrudo was picking up where he had left off in November, when there had been a block of rehearsal time with the company and he developed about three-quarters of a piece. But that was then. “I don’t remember anything after 30 seconds, and between last November and now I’ve been incredibly busy.” Cerrudo, originally from Spain, has been Resident Choreographer for Hubbard Street Dance Company in Chicago, a group he previously danced with, for seven years. He has created more than a dozen works for that company. This is his second for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
Since November, there had also been a change of personnel. Two of the dancers Cerrudo had worked with last fall, Paul Busch and Corwin Barnette, have since left the company (Busch to join the Berlin State Ballet, and Barnette the Grand Ballet Canadiens. ) Another dancer, Peter Franc, will dance in ASFB summer programs, and learn Cerrudo’s new piece, but will leave in the fall to join Oregon Ballet Theater. New dancers to the company are Jenelle Figgins, formerly of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Pete Leo Walker, from Charlotte Ballet, and Anthony Tiedeman, a recent Juiliard grad. The summer peformances at the Lensic will include 14 dancers on stage, the most AFSB has ever had.
All of the newbies were in residence in Aspen at a recent company rehearsal with Cerrudo, and after a week together, they were still being folded into the piece. “I’m here to reconnect, and to enjoy getting to know these dancers. Regardless of the success of this work,” Cerrudo said,“it’s important to cultivate relationships and nourish the work between a company and a choreographer.”
Figgins, a tiny African-American woman, introduced herself with a firm handshake and said she was very happy to be away from New York City. “If I want to get stressed out, I just call my sister while she’s waiting for the subway during rush hour in the morning.” Pete Leo Walker is a tall, muscular dancer currently sporting hipster facial hair, and offering the kind of attack that company member Joseph Watson is known for. Someone should create a duet for the two of them. Tiedeman, who graduated from Juiliard only weeks ago, has already been given solo material by Cerrudo, which he seemed to eat up with the facility dancers from the New York City conservatory are trained to have. He’ll be one of the more technically fluent dancers in the company, judging from this peek at his dancing during a rehearsal and class.
As Cerrudo took things from the top, the opening score offered sounds of low volume, grunge-style guitar music with a tick-tock rhythmic percussion underlay, Two men, then four others, slowly entered to dance, much of the time down on the floor, in patterns that were orderly, often unison, and movement that was fluid, athletic, momentum-based—a blend of ballet, yoga, break-dancing and Butoh. After Cerrudo paused to ask for a clarification from one of the new men, he asked if any of the dancers remembered the exact steps he’d come up with at some earlier time for that particular moment. Figgins raised her hand, and demonstrated the missing movement with a relaxed mastery. “Can you learn that part? I want you to learn the whole thing,” he said to her. Suddenly, a woman was doing a man’s part in a man’s section. Things change and decision happen fast when the piece is being created on the spot. “Take the time to make it huge,” he told another dancer. “Make it your step.”
“Classical ballet gives you knowledge about the body, it trains your muscles, it gives you discipline and gives you rules. What’s fun, then, is to break them.”
In the next section, recorded voices speaking Louisiana Cajun cued the company women to enter. The music that came had New-Agey piano chords and a minimalist sound palette. By now, the new dance seemed to have proclaimed itself to be on a gentler note than many of the pieces in the company repertoire. Cerrudo seemed to be interested, here in movement coming from the same place from which he addressed the dancers and lead a rehearsal—soft-spoken, friendly, open. An extended duet danced by company members Emily Proctor and Craig Black offered lyricism and perhaps a suggestion of romance, certainly a sense of sweetness. They stood for a few long moments facing each other, his hands up in the air in front of him, her hands suddenly grasping him by the wrists, holding him as if there were some message for her touch to deliver through his skin.
Later, as the music changed again, lines of men began rocking their arms and crossing the stage in a monkey walk. Women travelled on their bellies undulating like earthworms. Later, a line of women on their knees played a rhythmic game of gestures that had the speed and expertise of young girls on a playground, with their well-practiced hand-clap games and jump rope chants.
Cerrudo still had a couple of weeks of rehearsal. “In terms of the time frame, I just keep working. When I think I have a complete piece, I stop. At this point, I’m still figuring things out,” he said. “There are key sections of the piece I still don’t know about. I have a good feeling about the piece overall though.”
The remaining two weeks would not only be spent polishing Cerrudo’s new piece. The reconfigured company would be taking advantage of the rehearsal time to teach new dancers the other pieces of the summer program, “1st Flash” by Jorma Elo (Finnish Choreographer in Residence at the Boston Ballet) and “Beautiful Mistake” by Cayetano Soto.