In another first for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB), founded by Bebe Schweppe in 1997, performed in the upstate New York venue, renowned for among other things being the summer home of the internationally acclaimed New York City Ballet (NYCB).
Jean-Philippe Malaty, ASFB’s Executive Director, has said, “Dance is a celebration of the human spirit, and not a celebration of steps.”
Immediately, as the curtain rose to the performance of “Over Glow,” choreographed by Jorma Elo with music by Beethoven and Mendelssohn, you experienced how, as Mr. Malaty puts it, ASFB fosters “the spirit and the love of dance.”
The human spirit – intangible sacredness – became incarnate, caught in time, with the sensual, elegant, synchronistic movements of Craig Black, Katherine Bolanos, Samantha Klanac Campanile, Katie Dehler, Peter Franc, and Nolan DeMarco McGahan.
Critics, however, have not been fair to “Over Glow” or to ASFB in general for a variety of reasons. One reviewer described the movements to “Over Glow” as jerky, yet there is a grace and delicacy to the movements making them crisp rhythm, not unlike your first consciousness of inhaling the coolness of refreshing autumn.
These are not “classical” expressions, though inspired by them. They’re organic, though mature. There was a gentle symmetric beauty in the gentle blue the men wore and the celery green of the women, costumes designed by Nete Joseph, with tasteful, thoughtful lighting by Jordan Tuinman.
ASFB is a small troupe, refreshingly avant-garde, if not intoxicatingly eccentric without pretentiousness, but yet, with an elegant discipline to masterfully pull off the different. Many critics don’t see it, which may say more about the reviewers than the company.
ASFB struck me in an odd, distant kind of way like Wagner or Shostakovich. You either get it, or don’t. If you do, then there is a life-long, passionate love affair on the way.
It’s worth remembering, especially by ASFB’s detractors, how many “masterpieces” in art, music, and dance enjoyed today as part of a standard program, poorly received at their premiere. In some cases, certain classics took decades to develop a following.
The Nutcracker comes to mind, a yawn for many, many years. Bizet’s Carmen bombed, yet is a standard in most respected opera companies today. During his life, van Gogh sold one work and his genius appreciated posthumously. The list goes on.
Scriabin, little known in the West, is a bit like Chopin with an honest, definitive Slavic soul, yet his music is ignored outside Eastern Europe. Perhaps ASFB will commission a new work to Scriabin’s music with costumes inspired by Nicholas Roerich.
ASFB also did “Last,” choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo and “Stamping Ground,” choreographed by Jiri Kylian. These dances were distinctively different from “Our Glow,” but had a challenging originality due to the physicality required of the dancers while drawing the audience into a very different kind of artistic experience. The movements were strong, determined, and splendidly pure, yet elegant.
If your comfort level is only classical ballet and your understanding of modern dance is studied, then ASFB will be an interesting experience. If your mind, soul, and intellect are a marvelous plant, needing the bosom of rich, lush, organic soil, ASFB offers something special.
The SPAC ballet crowd, long enamored with their beloved NYCB, and rightly so, held their breath not knowing what to expect of ASFB. They were not disappointed. The audience greeted their Thursday night performance, their last of three, to well-deserved bravos, standing ovation, and howls of approval.
Clearly, NYCB, the long reigning ballet company at SPAC, and newcomer ASFB, were complementary to the SPAC dance season. ASFB added something very special to the 2013 summer season with special gifts distinct from NYCB. ASFB celebrates the soul in step, as much as NYCB, but in a wonderfully different way.
Paul Jesep is a Schenectady, NY based consultant, corporate chaplain, and author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically”.