writers on dancing


Compact Contemporary

“Left Unsaid"/"Fandango"/"Sinatra Suite"/"Like a Samba"
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
March 10, 2005

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet knows how to put together a well-planned, balanced program, and how to make the most out of its compact size (the roster currently numbers eleven dancers). While I had reservations about the program it brought for its second Joyce season—only one work featured toe shoes, for one thing—it was an admirable attempt to balance the familiar and the new, and overall the company made a refreshing, invigorating impression.

Nicolo Fonte, a busy New York-born choreographer with an international profile, work frequently with the nine-year-old troupe, and "Left Unsaid," made in 2003, is his fourth dance for them. Well-crafted and intelligently assembled, it clearly left the audience enthusiastic. Put off initially by the loud blaring volume at which the recorded Bach solo violin selections were heard, I also had trouble initially getting past the costuming. Women minimally dressed next to men looking ready to go out on the streets is a look that is usually jarring. Here, the three women wore periwinkle tank suits, outfits that made them look ready for an aerobics class, while the men wore black pants and jackets over sleeveless tops.

Fonte employs sleek, swift partnering and hints of emotional coloring to suggest relationships going through various permutations. Folding chairs at times figure in the choreography, and at other times provide a place where dancers remain on the periphery of the action, waiting and observing while they are not dancing. He calls upon the dancers' clean lines and ample flexibility without asking them to distort or exaggerate. The work has a vibrancy and immediacy, but came across as an intriguing exercise, confidently assembled, than a truly individual piece of choreography.

Two duets by well-established choreographers formed the central portion of the program. Why do ballet dancers need to twist and wrap themselves around the tiresomely repetitive maneuvers of Lar Lubovitch's "Fandango," an ill-advised duet to Ravel's "Bolero." Ice dancers Torvill and Dean managed to embody this music's tension and incessant crescendo, but they only used about four minutes of the music. Lubovitch attacks the challenge with grim determination, but it is not clear why he bothered. There is nothing sensual or captivating here, and the motif of swirling and encircling of bodies comes across as labored.

Lauren Alzamora and Sam Chittenden tried their best, but the overall effect was grim and effortful. As the piece went on, it suffered from diminishing returns; the richer and more bombastic the music got, the smaller the dancers' impact became.

What a relief—and complete pleasure—after that to encounter Twyla Tharp's 1984 "Sinatra Suite," a work one is only too glad to see again. It asks a lot of its couple, since they dance several of the duets that were performed by different members of Tharp's company of scintillating inidividuals in the 1982 "Nine Sinatra Songs." Drawing on that work and originally a vehicle for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo, the five-part Suite brimmed with romance and charisma when performed by those experienced Tharpians.

Staged for the company by Kudo, it was performed by Brooke Klinger and Seth DelGrasso, intelligent and appealing dancers who in no way resemble the original pair. They gave it a more straightforward interpretation that allowed one to appreciate Tharp's smart, inventive way of manipulating ballroom dancing conventions. She was really exploring the possibilities of lifts in the early '80s, and this suite is filled with daring, surprising lifts that fit beautifully with the musical moment and the song's lyrics. There is wit and emotional subtlety throughout the suite, as the couple progresses from the restrained elegance and fleet mock-tango footwork of "Strangers in the Night, to the complete trust and abandon of "All the Way," and then into the deftly timed power struggle and outright animosity of "That's Life." They shift from that confrontation to the unforced harmony of "My Way," but it is a final, fleeting moment—or perhaps a recollection of what once was. Klinger departs, and DelGrasso slips into a quietly self-pitying, loose and seemingly impromptu solo of regret for the good times that have passed him by. These two dancers let you see the work as a wonderful, sensitively shaped dramatic ballet. They didn't try to mimic their predecessors, but in letting the dance speak for itself, made their own exemplary case for its resilience.

After these two duets in black, the delightful closing work, the stylish white costumes of Trey McIntyre's delightful "Like a Samba" seemed to positively glow. An early (1997) by this talented and still-young choreographer, it captures the lilting rhythms and lush textures of a series songs, all but one by Antonio Carlos Jobim, sung in both Portuguese and English by Astrud Gilberto. The two women, Klinger and Samantha Klanac, wore halter dresses with flowing knee-length skirts, and flesh-colored pointe shoes over bare legs. The three men looked smart and sporty in their casual shirts and pants.

McIntyre uses his compact cast adroitly, deploying them in shifting formations against rectangles of light in the opening, where they are first seen in striking silhouette. The work has its own exuberant momentum, moving through its permutations with flair and ease, demonstrating that McIntyre knows how to be deftly entertaining in a very classy way. We never feel these are ballet dancers who are slumming or trying to be something they are not, and at the same time they appear to simply be dancing, riding along on the captivating rhythms and sultry sounds of the music. Klanac who only appeared in this one work, is a striking, engaging dancer. Tall, with a elegantly expressive back, she radiates an unforced exuberance and brings out both the refinement and expansiveness of McIntyre's choreography. When she is featured in the section set to "The Girl from Ipanema," you certainly understand why the men would sigh every time she passes.

Volume 3, No. 11
March 14, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter


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last updated on March 14, 2005