Jacob’s Pillow: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet High-altitude dance in the Shawn


By Leslie Kandell

Special to The Eagle

BECKET -- Clipped movements and strong feet characterized Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s return to Jacob’s Pillow for its fifth engagement, concluding the season on Sunday. The small troupe travels light, without scenery or elaborate costumes, so it can easily spring away from its high-altitude home towns to show off its energy close to sea level.

The 18-year-old company, directed by Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty, describes its work (which includes 28 commissions) as "contemporary classical."

It has been said that George Balanchine, the pioneer of that form, favored "flexed hands (and occasionally feet), off-centered positions and leotards and tunics instead of tutus." That’s a fair image of Wednesday’sperformance in the Ted Shawn Theatre.

The company again brought three ballet-slipper works: "Over Glow," "A Beautiful Mistake" and "The Heart(s)pace," commissioned from international choreographers in the past three years. No toe shoes.

All showed their choreographers’ familiarity with the troupe’s style, and they therefore had much in common. Dancers’ gestures were limited and defined, their abrupt finishes looking sometimes Teutonic and sometimes like two-dimensional friezes. Contrary to the look of Paul Taylor, David Parsons or Lar Lubovitch, the Aspen movements do not follow through fluidly to the wrist and out the fingertips. Stiffly pointed fingers and splayed legs have their own look but do not appeal to everyone.


Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo made his own symphonic structure in the 2011 "Over Glow." Sandwiched between Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas Overture and the wild Saltarello finale of his Italian Symphony was the luscious slow movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, on a recording with Anne-Sophie Mutter. Amazingly, that worked.

The story line, if there was one, was not clear. It’s never a must, but Elo wrote in his notes, "There is a strong element of dying, of death. And of something continuing despite that. When one thinks of death, you think something stops. But nothing stops. The machinery keeps on going. Is it sad, or beautiful? I don’t know." If he doesn’t, how are we supposed to?

In front of three differently colored back lights, shirtless men in slacks and women in flirty little green tops (by Nete Joseph) danced singly and in pairs, drawing closer until pairs were holding a third dancer in the air, perhaps horizontally. Emily Proctor, who at the previous visit proved that she can run while holding her ankles, ran around more than the others. As she ran off the stage at the end, Peter Franc grabbed her and hoisted her in the air, but she kept right on running. It was a sweet image.


"Beautiful Mistake" was choreographed in 2013 by the Spanish-born Cayetano Soto, who wrote, "Unexpected things happen in the studio with the dance or the music and it’s a mistake. But the mistake is so beautiful that I need to use it." Not everyone was far enough into the piece to see where the mistakes were, but the dreary, noodling four-movement score by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds may have been one. Lighting was white against dark, the backdrop black with spotlights, and the loose-fitting legless garments were also by Joseph.

Nicolo Fonte has danced with troupes that have appeared at the Pillow, and choreographed for them as well. Movements of his new "The Heart(s)pace" are scherzo, trio and presto, all danced by an ensemble of eight, in dark red shaded short-sleeved unisex leotards, before a light-reddish backlight designed by Seah Johnson.


There was less floor work this time around. Facing three large white circles of light shining from stage left, Samantha Klanac Campanile danced slowly, in profile and in silence, until the music started and she flung out her limbs. Others entered one by one, increasing the tension and forming groups with someone in the air. Ezio Bosso’s interesting electronic score had the harmonic flavor of a Philip Glass wannabe, and Vivaldi-like broken chords.

Twinkling turns and musical excitement grew until the end. That part the audience loved. Dance Review

ASPEN SANTA FE BALLET. Soto: "Beautiful Mistake"; Elo: "Over Glow"; Fonte: "Heart(s)pace." Through Sunday. Eves.: 8 Fri., Sat. Mats.: 2 Sat., Sun. Jacob’s Pillow, Ted Shawn Theatre, 358 George Carter Road, Becket. Tickets: $45-$75. (413) 243-0745; jacobspillow.org


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