The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is an area favorite. The 11-member dance ensemble easily sells out the area’s smaller venues, mainly because its dancing and dancers are breezy, energetic and attractive.
The ensemble also performs works by some of the world’s hottest contemporary choreographers. What’s not to love?
But plunk the ballet troupe in a large space like the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where it performed Wednesday night, and this troupe’s allure is somewhat diminished. Its big juice that electrifies intimate spaces was toned down in the vastness.
Still, the troupe and its three chamber works held its own, especially with an eye-popping piece like Norbert De La Cruz III’s “Square None.” To a compilation of music with snippets of Handel, Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Michelle Ross and Aphex Twin, the piece for seven had a distinctive look. The dancers wearing steel gray costumes by Austin Scarlett exuded a cold, urbane sensibility that was heightened by their isolation in individually illuminated squares.
The music jolted both dancers and audience for this unusual ride that played out in a variety of ways — from zombie spookfest to a competitive game of chess.
The evening opened with Jorma Elo’s spunky “Overglow.” In it, three couples responded with whimsy to the symphonic sounds of Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Dancers fluctuated between classical elegance (shoulder lifts and long-held arabesque) and quirky pedestrian movement (hand signals and hip and head wobbles). It all ended with an explosion of both styles colliding in delightfully eccentric ways.
Jiri Kylian’s “Return to a Strange Land,” a classic modern work from 1975, looked as dreamy and weighty as ever. Written for six dancers and set to piano pieces by Leos Janacek, it unfolded like an exhausting pilgrimage in which the wayfarers bolstered each other throughout the journey.
The four men, Craig Black, Peter Franc, Nolan DeMarco McGahan and Joseph Watson, acted as faithful servants to the women, Katherine Bolanos and Samantha Klanac Campanile. They carried them with care as the women melted into backbends or curled their torsos and limbs around them.
Ultimately, “Return to a Strange Land” resonated with beauty because the collective welfare of its travelers was its lofty goal.
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet will perform a different program at 2 and 8 p.m. today.