July 9th, 2009

storyteller doll

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

I'd promised myself I'd go to at least once dance performance this year, so I went to see the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at Wolf Trap the other night. This was a mixed repertory program, consisting of four pieces by four modern choreographers.

The first, Sweet Fields by Twyla Tharp, was to a series of hymns, including Shaker songs and shape note songs. This was extremely weird. First, the dancers generally started dancing a measure or two before the music began. I'm not just talking about them entering in a dancerly way. (And, in fact, since there seemed to be some postural influences from classical Indian styles like kathak, their entries were not especially balletic.) They were hopping and shaking and so on before there were actual notes playing. I also hated the costumes, particularly the women's costumes which looked like white two piece bathing suites with partial robes over them. I'm sure that was supposed to be very celestial, but it didn't work for me. Finally, the dancing itself had too much flexed-foot hopping type steps, which I don't think very graceful. You might have gathered that I didn't care much for this piece and you'd be right. (Note also that I love Shaker songs and I have friends who are shape note singers. The former have some dance potential since the Shakers did use dance in worship for many years. But I think that "singing the shapes" may be the least danceable music ever.)

The second piece was Fugaz by Cayetano Soto, set to a traditional Spanish song. Again, the dancers started before the music. Despite that, I really liked this piece, which focused on one or two dancers at a time (via the lighting). There were a few points where you saw one of the male dances move in the shadows, which was a bit creepy. The style was the sort of slow, modern one I associate with, say, Pilobulus, with complicated poses.

Next was Slinglerland by William Forsythe, set to music by Gavin Bryars (specifically his String Quartet No. 1. Bryars is, by the way, one of my favorite modern composers.) This was a pas de deux and was the most traditional of the pieces. There was even music before anybody moved! The female dancer wore a tutu! Somebody might think they were actually at the ballet.

The final piece was 1st Flash by Jorma Elo, set to three pieces by Jean Sibelius. This involved very athletic dancing and no particular aspect of it that made any specific impression on me. Except, that is, for the dancers having started a full minute or more before the music, dancing without music between the movements, and dancing without music for a significant time at the end. If it seems like I'm harping on this, it's because it's something I've never seen before and it struck me as a deplorable modern trend, akin to the decline of the overture in modern musicals. I may need to see something like Giselle (my most hated ballet of all time) to counter this.