Dance review: Ballet troupe witty, energetic at Pillow

The movements were strong and clipped at Jacob’s Pillow when the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet returned on W

The movements were strong and clipped at Jacob’s Pillow when the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet returned on Wednesday with three dances from old times (1983), middle and recent history.

The small troupe — eight or 10, depending on repertory — travels light, without much in the way of scenery or costuming, and often leaves its homes in two high-altitude cities to show off its energy close to sea level.

The immediate effect of the program, which continues through Sunday, improved as it went along, progressing evenly from “Quick, a cup of coffee!” to “This is what we came for.”

“Evenly” is the key word. The first dance — “Uneven,” a 2010 commission from Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto — was uneven in every concept, movement and production value, as intended. But it became evenly monotonous, running out of ideas before it ended. As a critic once said about another dance performance: “While the eye scrambles to keep up, the imagination yawns.”

The look of the piece is diagonal, as if the floor had been yanked upstage. A rug in the rear corner was pulled up to look like a tent, in front of which sat a cellist, who performed a solo with tape mix, by David Lang, the Pulitzer Prize-winning minimalist and founder of Bang on a Can. A single spotlight high above the cellist’s head illuminated William Cannon and Katie Dehler in leotards, and their quick spins, hyperextensions and clipped angular movements were the language of the rest of the piece.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

WHERE: Jacob’s Pillow, 358 George Carter Road, Becket, Mass.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $64.50-$59.50

MORE INFO: 413-243-9919,

As more dancers jumped and ran in, more spotlights from the same track brightened the stage. Nervous repeated single notes from Kimberly Patterson’s cello built with the piece and, by the end, the cello, over the tape mix, supported the dancers with a sustained lyrical line. Patterson — the only performer in a gown — shared the curtain call.

There is not a toe shoe in sight this week — certainly not in the witty “Stamping Ground” by the gifted Czech-born choreographer Jiri Kylian, who has done his major work with Nederlands Dans Theater. Rarely seen in the United States, the 1983 work was inspired by traditional dances Kylian saw at a tribal gathering in northern Australia. Performed by six dancers in front of a shiny black plastic curtain, it is characterized by stamps, slaps, athletic feats and squared-off motions, performed with suddenness to a percussion score by Carlos Chavez.

The stage is empty until big-haired Seia Rassenti suddenly jumps through the curtain in a squat with legs and arms apart and looking like paintings of Aborigines. A series of solos continues with the athletic Sam Chittenden, who can jump and land in a one-handed pushup. With sharp angular motions, Emily Proctor, who can run around holding her ankles, suddenly freezes into a pose like that of a jungle animal or a vaudeville performer waiting for applause. She earned it and got it, with smiles from the audience as well.

Later, William Cannon and Joseph Watson faced each other with extended arms, swinging Proctor between them. As she oscillated from side to side, each leg shot up in a high kick. After a startling leap on stage by dancers, accompanied by the score’s snare drums suggesting the Bush, they disappear, leaving Proctor with only one man.

Floor show

In the final piece, the floor threatens to steal the show. “Red Sweet,” (apparently unrelated to Alvin Ailey’s “Blues Suite”) a commission from Jorma Elo and introduced in 2008, has a spectacular lighting design by Jordan Tuinman. Floor stripes of pink, purple and fuchsia change gorgeously in width and intensity for each variation.

The women’s black leotards by Nete Joseph, who also designed costumes for “Uneven,” are flecked with red, to pick up the floor color. Music of Vivaldi and Biber suggests that the style of the couples dances and showy solos might call for classical ballet dress. That would have been nice — if expensive and clumsy to transport — but leotards allow informality of gesture. The dancers moved with crisp speed, stabbing the air.

Their energy probably enhanced by the drop in altitude, they did cute little fillips as they exited the stage during the dances, eliciting murmurs of pleasure from the audience. The company was lustily cheered at the end, and people strolled out feeling lifted.

Categories: Entertainment

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