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Lori Ortiz
Performance Reviews
Durham Performing Arts Center
United States
North Carolina
Durham, NC

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at The American Dance Festival (ADF)

by Lori Ortiz
July 7, 2009
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian Street
Durham, NC 27701
American Dance Festival
The American Dance Festival is the Southern stronghold of modern. They've reached out to sister bastions, for example, the modern dance community in Ekaterinaburg, Russia, and have sampled all kinds of classical dance, including ballet. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is engaged for a third season. The 2009 Festival, in its 75th anniversary, is billed as a place "where Ballet and Modern meet." It includes eight world premieres— none are by ballet companies. Only two are invited. Nevertheless, the gesture implies promise for ballet's presence at ADF.

Visitors to the Festival this holiday weekend did not go wanting. ASFB's program of four modern ballets fit the bill. The small company of eleven dancers impressed, especially in the final awesome 2008 "Red Sweet" by Jorma Elo, where they more than establish their standing as a go-to company.

To a score with alternating JS Bach and Heinrich von Biber music, "Red Sweet" explores the baroque era of courtly dancing at the beginning of ballet history. The dancers use gesture and converse with their bodies. The dance is abstract as the music. Bits of humor are interjected, recalling "Sue's Leg," by Twyla Tharp, first on the program. In both works, the dancers are so intertwined that they interfere with each other precariously and demonstrate that great modern discovery, the fall.

Elo continues to refine his art. "Red Sweet" is epic, and by that I mean substantial and narrative, with a clear beginning, middle and end. As one of two breathtaking dances on the program this evening, its fluidity almost matched the other, the great postmodern master William Forsythe's "Slingerland" pas de deux. Both refuse interpretation and portent. They hold us rapt. The much longer "Red Sweet" energizes and speaks to the hope for a new American era.

Jordan Tuinman's delicious and unpredictable red lighting for the Elo supports the storytelling and bits of humor. For example, when a dancer is pushed away or exits with some self-satisfaction, white spots follow him out the wings, dappling the wing leg with flourish.

As it turns out there was plenty of reason to be satisfied. The small group returned to take bows, and more bows, to the standing, joyous audience.

Strangely, Laura Dean's 1980 "Night" looked more futuristic than the Elo. All onstage gradually commune and sync their dance. It is ritualistic, yet loosely formed. It is creepy in the dim lighting, yet when they end with palms up in suggested supplication, the spirituality wipes away misgivings. ASFB Artistic Director Tom Mossbrucker reconstructed "Night." Dean's music appropriates Steve Reich or Phillip Glass's minimal style.

"Night" is dark. "Slingerland" is murky. Lighting falls only on the flesh and on the buff colored costumes, including a protrusion of earthy-toned, thick material that comments on the classical tutu. The dance differs from Morphoses's more flashy "Slingerland" pas, in which I remember the costumes lighted with iridescent green and yellow. ASFB's Katherine Eberle's slithery pointework and a never-ending ribbon of turns with Sam Chittenden, exude rich, heady romance, in Jodie Gates's excellent staging.

"Sue's Leg," to 30s Fats Waller songs including "Ain't Misbehavin'," started the program off on a jocular 'leg.' Samantha Klanac, Emily Proctor, Eric Chase, and Seth DelGrasso put us at ease with slapstick and clowning. Proctor's sharp, slicing leg extensions recall the trick with a butter knife rocked between the thumb and forefinger to look like rubber. The dancers' demi-splits look unfinished. Can they do it? Turns out they can when called upon in a later dance. Proctor, in a solo, focuses on her leg, isolated and with a life of its own, as if she is seeing what it could do. The dance has Tharp's signature playfulness.

The new reconstruction, staged by Ron de Jesus, may have been the most difficult of the works. It was choreographed for the very first PBS "Dance in America." It's a good opener. The women sneeringly wag their bottom's at us— plausibly Tharp's intention.

The evening's program is just the ticket for these times, with a message of dance's curative power.

ADF, this year busts out of their long-time Duke University home, to present site-specific works in downtown Durham, as well as a program of performances in the new Durham Performing Arts Center. Pre and post talks are held in the lobby, led by critic-in residence Suzanne Carbonneau, who also leads the annual critics' fellowship I once attended, at ADF.

I came upon Suzanne and her crowd, while her words ricocheted around the glass and steel architecture. Inside the house there is plenty of wood and a warm sound. The sight lines are good too. ASFB dancers' feet meet the floor with beautiful silence. In "Sue's Leg" though, they look diminutive and too far upstage. Intimate is not the word for this theater. ADF's home is Duke University and Duke sponsored the DPAC performances. Though off-campus and centrally located, the building feels like a grand auditorium. Locals, tourists, students, and festival dancers fill the seats in a great meeting of hearts and minds.
William Cannon in 'Red Sweet'

William Cannon in "Red Sweet"

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Katherine Eberle and Sam Chittenden in 'Slingerland'

Katherine Eberle and Sam Chittenden in "Slingerland"

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Sue's Leg

Sue's Leg

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

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