Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Offers Mostly Upbeat Dance In Luckman Theater Concert

 reviewed by Steven Woodruff

Aspen Santa Ballet has made frequent appearances in Los Angeles in recent years. They are a versatile chamber company with a visibly powerful commitment to ensemble works. Their program Saturday at the Luckman Theater reprised two works from their 2012 program at the Carpenter Center, Jorma Elo’s “Over Glow”, and Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Last”. “The Heart(S)Pace”, a fleet work set against Ezio Bosso’s  accessible minimalist music concluded the program.

“Over Glow” looks less than it did two years ago. Elo’s buoyant, sometimes humorous choreography misses any real connection between the work’s three mix and match symphonic excerpts:  Mendelssohn’s tragedy filled “Ruy Blas Overture” and “Saltarello” from The Italian Symphony, and Beethoven’s elegiac 2nd movement from the Violin Concerto. That dancing, as the choreography’s center, offers the beginnings of an emotional statement before simply running out of steam as the music is inexplicably edited before it actually ends. If there is an in joke on the comedy, Elo doesn’t really let us in on it. The accomplished dancers felt ill used in an at times virtuosic and physically demanding work that under values their abilities and exuberance.

Cerrudo's "Last"

Cerrudo’s “Last”

The heart of the program, Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Last”, is a work where the musical connection speaks forcefully. It captures the yearning, bleak melancholy of Henryk Górecki’s “Requiem” and puts the dancers in contexts of do or die partnering and dependence. They hang on one another in ways that let you know all is lost if they let go. A shattering central duo danced by Emily Proctor and Joseph Watson distills the essence of “Lost” down to its essentials. Gloomy and at times menacing lighting by Seah Johnson loom throughout. This was the finest the evening had to offer. While the company often looks to brighter works as its strong suit “Last”, in spite of its grittiness, felt uplifting.

The Heart(S)Pace with music by Ezio Bosso

The Heart(S)Pace with music by Ezio Bosso

Concluding the program was a work by long time ASFB collaborator Nicolo Fonte with his anagrammed titling for “The Heart(S)Pace”. Returning for the set design were the warmed and similarly glowing backdrops from “Over Glow”. Costumes in two-tone red were coded for the title. Three orchestral sections excerpted from Bosso’s “Second Symphony #2, Under the Trees’ Voices”” angled (or perhaps forced) the movement in the direction of a breathless urgency. One section with a woman on pointe felt gratuitously placed and out of context, not just for this piece, but in an evening that democratically put all of the company on equal footing. Standing out was company dancer Paul Busch who looked possessed, edgy, and in control of a refinement that went beyond his male counterparts. By the last section the piece felt as if it had lost its way, overwhelmed by frantic action and contrived, gymnastic partnering.

A very thin Luckman Theatre audience gave the company a resounding and appreciative recognition. Small multi-dimensional companies like Aspen Santa Fe are an important development for ballet on the American dance scene. More people should be seeing them, especially in a ballet starved landscape like Los Angeles.

(For more on “Over Glow” and “Last” here is my review from the 2012 program at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, California.  )

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