Separately, trio of dances soar at Jacob’s Pillow
BECKET - At Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is demonstrating that in the three years since its last visit, the company has kept pace with the morphing current of the larger dance world. Unfussy yet glamorous dancers with formidable yet not ostentatious technique? Check. A repertoire that includes dances by choreographic legends, current stars, and up-and-coming movers and shakers? Check, check, check. A secret ingredient that keeps this Little Ballet Company That Could afloat and special? You bet. The programs continue through Sunday.
The only blip is the programming, composed of three dances that separately are brilliant but whose luster dims a bit when placed together. The movement that fuels the exuberant strangeness of “Uneven’’ by the promising Cayetano Soto, “Stamping Ground’’ by the veteran Jirí Kylián, and “Red Sweet’’ by the acclaimed Jorma Elo - is not always as unique as it might be.
The group’s 10 performers are shape shifters who slip between pristine classicism and the oddest of contemporary movements with unconscious ease. In a blink a dancer moves from a tight fifth position of the legs, torso erect, to a collapsed curve of the back, the legs now thrown inward.
The title of Cayetano Soto’s “Uneven’’ refers to several of the dance’s components, and while there is much that is skewed - including the dancers’ geometrically contrasting costumes and the simple, dramatic stage design (also by Soto) - this dance is masterfully crafted. “Uneven’’ seems a misnomer for a piece that is beautifully unearthly.
When the curtain opens on two dancers and a cellist, it feels like a sharp intake of breath, as if we’ve surprised them mid-thought. From there, a glorious tumble of movement and sound occurs. Kimberly Patterson, on cello, plays David Lang’s lovely composition with a combination of restrained fervor and subtle longing, while the eight dancers move like moonwalkers, journeying a shifting surface. The partnering is marvelously unconventional but fluidly executed, as if the dancers share the same skin for a moment.
Kylián’s quirky and fun “Stamping Ground’’ begins with a series of solos whose only accompaniment is the slapping of hands against a chest or leg, or the stomp of feet landing from a jump. About halfway into the dance, groups finally form. Kylián bides his time boldly, testing and teasing his audience’s reaction, but slowly a witty playfulness, underscored by Carlos Chávez’s energetic composition for percussion instruments, emerges. The dancers are insect-like creatures or primitive beings now engaged in mating rituals, now declaring dominance. Or maybe they’re just goofy: In one trio a tiny woman is swung like a pendulum between two men, her legs slicing straight up to the side or held in a tight diamond.
Elo’s “Red Sweet,’’ made for the company in 2008, begins as a ballet parody - what should be a rounded arm position becomes neurotic, palms flexed inward at stiff right angles, for instance - but then blossoms and finally melts into a thing of beauty. Lifts that earlier in the piece are spoofs of a “Giselle’’ moment become soaring flights of sighing fancy. It’s an unexpected love letter from Elo - one of the kings of contemporary - to the art of ballet, where it all started long ago.
Janine Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.