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Flash Review 1, 6-24: Mountain Fresh
Elevated Rep. & Dancers from Aspen Santa Fe

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- If you missed the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Joyce Theater, June 17 - 21, don't let it happen again! This exhilarating company of twelve, directed by Jean-Philippe Malaty and Tom Mossbrucker, stormed the stage with an eclectic repertoire that electrified the audience. Both directors are alumni of the Joffrey Ballet, and neither are choreographers, but they obviously have a perceptive eye for choosing strong dancers and repertoire that shows off their strengths as well as delighting audiences. The dancing is go-for-broke daring -- especially from the women -- with high energy and edgy dynamics.

The ballet "sans detour" by Dominique Dumais, formerly of the National Ballet of Canada, turns the women into sinewy, angular creatures with cupped hands, turned-in knees, and flexed toe shoes. As the title implies, the movement -- propelled by Movement III of Philip Glass's "Third Symphony" mixed with bits of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" and Bach's "Chorale Prelude" -- unravels in a fluid stream of big extensions, spinal gyrations, deft partnering. In a solo with chair, Irene Joyce has an emotional meltdown, pierced by silent screams. Peter Lavoie's lighting articulates the space in interesting architectural ways, and Guillaume Cote, the complex sound design. Dumais creates some ravishing, sensuous duet passages for single and multiple couples, especially one for Tom Chittenden and Irene Joyce. But she's packed the dance so full of both movement and expression: abstraction, neo-classicism, and drama, it leaves us wanting less.

After this neo-classic blockbuster, Dwight Rhoden's eloquent "Ave Maria" -- set to Cacini's version, not the more familiar Schubert one -- enjoyed a passionate performance by ASFB founding members Brooke Klinger and Seth DelGrasso. Its convoluted couplings and lifts keep building momentum, and the gripping physical image of Klinger balancing on toe in an impossibly deep second position plie always draws applause. Michael Korsch designed the flesh-flattering lighting.

Moses Pendleton, a founding father of Pilobolus, can come up with crowd-pleasing images with his hands tied behind his back. His "Noir Blanc" fills the bill with its how'd-they-do-that images that evoked applause several times. Pendleton is adept at exploring the permutations of his unlikely, if sometimes predictably manipulated, imagery. Behind a scrim, across which astrological scenes are projected, glow ten all-white profiles. They lean at impossible angles, finally floating off the ground altogether. The trick is the costumes, conceived by Pendleton and designed by Phoebe Katzin, which are half white and half invisible black, concealing the dancers' supporting legs.

Riding the pulse of music by The Buddha Experience and Harold Budd, the piece exploits visual trickery in myriad gravity-defying ways: dancers glide across the stage in mid-air; they appear to leap huge distances; they split in two and reassemble their halves. At the climax nine bodies assemble into an all-white mass, and a shadowy black creature is sucked into the shape and disappears. Then the mass morphs into a towering mountain peak.

Finally, "Vertical Dream" by Nicolo Fonte, an American who danced with Spain's Nacho Duato, explores similar neo-classic territory as Dumais, with even juicier, elastic extensions, inventive partnering, and, yes, a bit of faux-angst. Here, the women are off point, and Fonte's dynamic flow is nicely modulated, hitched to percussive electric music by David Lang and a somber, intense score by Arvo Part.

It opens with a forceful solo by DelGrasso, who's then joined by Katie Dehler in Lloyd Sobel's mysterious lighting. Eric Chase, Chittenden, and Patrick Thompson meet DelGrasso in a powerful male quartet. The men wear briefs and the women leotards by Billie Meyer: black, each adorned with one narrow color stripe. Klinger, Joyce, and Elizabeth Johansen partner with the men and dance together with each other. Upstage, four vertical green neon tubes frame the dancers in their glare from time to time. As the music dies, a strong wind is heard, and Johansen is left alone onstage in a storm of delicate snow falling in a small rectangular patch. The standing ovation that greeted the show affirmed that this a company to be reckoned with.

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