Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has two homes – one in Colorado and one in New Mexico. In their current season at The Joyce Theater, something was left behind. The program, which includes three New York City premieres and William Forsythe’s Slingerland Pas de Deux, proves that the dancers (particularly the women, who were highlighted much more so than the men) are capable technicians, but artistry is significantly lacking. With the exception of Itzik Galili’s intriguing Chameleon, the evening showcases lean, athletic bodies moving at high speed without incorporating lyricism or emotion, or engaging the audience. The fourth wall stood firmly in place.
In Helen Pickett’s Petal, eight dancers rush in and out of the lush, brightly colored stage to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Montgomery Newman. Several duets and solos look fairly similar, with flailing limbs and lightning-speed turns. The dancing is aggressive, but the dancers are unconvincing. All are trapped within themselves, neither relating to each other nor to the audience. More expressive dancing surely would have enhanced the uplifting mood that the lighting design and music contribute to the piece.
Lack of emotion is even more apparent in Jorma Elo’s 1st Flash, an odd choice to close the program. From this and several of his other works, it is clear that Elo relies too heavily on the wow factor, often including chaotic movement, manipulative partnering, and many gesturing arms. This can only carry a piece – and an audience – so far, especially when the choreography and music, by Jean Sibelius, aren’t integrated. It seems as if Elo creates movement before even choosing music, and then feels compelled to cram as much of it into the score as possible. In fact, several sections of the piece are performed in silence, suggesting an overflow of movement that even the sweeping score cannot contain.
Contrasting with Elo’s messy whirlwind is Forsythe’s Slingerland Pas de Deux to music by Gavin Bryars. The pure movement is set within a mysterious world that forces the audience to look closely for the dancers’ every move. On Wednesday’s performance, Sam Chittenden and Katherine Eberle were a bit too sharp and jerky, not presenting the fluidity that the movement calls for. Nevertheless, their poise and precision were commendable.
The most distinct piece on the program is Itzik Galili’s Chameleon, which provides an in-depth emotional exploration that is lacking from the other pieces. Five women sit in bright green chairs at the front of the stage, morphing from proper and pretty to absurd and annoyed. Their abrupt emotional shifts, shown through a variety of gestures and mime, reflect the moodiness of John Cage’s “In a Landscape”. One couldn’t help but feel badly for the women, with all their insecurities and desperate attempts at catching someone’s attention. Galili successfully draws out a personal side of each dancer.
Aspen Santa Fe’s dancers deserve praise for their technically polished performances, but they also deserve more multi-faceted choreography that will provide them with opportunities to develop as well-rounded artists.