Aspen Santa Fe Ballet: Live review
Getting to and from the MAC in Glen Ellyn was an exercise in faith—the trip home took almost two hours—but, wintry mix be damned, ASFB brought the ’burbs vibrant performances in three pieces. They also brought a fourth. I'll get to that.
Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo has had his work on area stages with increasing frequency. Hubbard Street commissioned From All Sides and Bitter Suite in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and San Francisco Ballet performed Double Evil here in the interim. All three have compelling moments, but none gel into an experience that remains after the curtain drops. You fall in love with the work his vocabulary suggests and become dismayed that what you’re watching isn’t it; he’s astoundingly creative but even more tangential. To watch Red Sweet, which ASFB commissioned in 2008, is to see Elo’s strengths (unique movement, slippery humor, thrilling speed) finally hewn to compositional rigor. It’s both a joy and a relief.
If you’ve heard the name Twyla Tharp but don’t know what it means, a viewing of her 1975 quartet Sue’s Leg would tell you much (if not all) you need to know. Snatches of social dance, soft shoe, ballet and jazz flash within the frame of four friends just hanging out. It’s set to a handful of crackly recordings by “Fats” Waller of standards like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and was lit by Jennifer Tipton to drift from sunny days to a slightly-menacing followspot. Tharp, especially in an old chestnut like Sue’s, can be maddeningly noncommittal: Emily Proctor, a tiny dancer with a radiant presence, is left at one point in her solo to endlessly paddle turn like a dimwit at a Phish concert. It may aim for simple exuberance, but just doesn’t feel honest. (It’s not an issue of interpretation, either—the dancers of ASFB are a humble bunch. Not a single ego or editorial on the stage, just ten diligent artists letting the choreography speak for itself.) I won’t argue with Tharp’s genius or massive influence, but there’s a frigid distance to her work that’s always kept me out.
Katherine Bolaños and Sam Chittenden were as gorgeous in the duet from William Forsythe’s Slingerland (2000) as they were last summer. It was given the same precise, passionate take, one I’d happily watch a dozen times more.
Closing the program was Noir Blanc, a 2002 commission from MOMIX’s Moses Pendleton. It employs ultraviolet lighting and a downstage scrim to create the optical illusion of eight bodies cut in half vertically, “magically” levitating and bouncing. Pendleton gives each “magic” moment at least 60 seconds to register, approximately 59 more than is necessary. This kind of thing has its place—a MOMIX concert, for example—but sharing a bill with an excellent Elo, a seminal Tharp and a pristine Forsythe is definitely not it.