Aspen Santa Fe ballet
The Aspen Santa Fe ballet company. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor
Text size

The Aspen Santa Fe ballet company is currently on its first visit to Israel, at the invitation of the Herzliya Performing Arts Center. The American repertory company, which consists of 12 dancers, uses classical ballet techniques to support solid modern dance. A refreshing troupe, Aspen Sante Fe exhibits refined taste, expressed in its choice of dances and the group's stage presence - free of theatrical effects, allowing viewers to concentrate on the dancers' bodies and the lucid compositions.

The common denominator in the first and third pieces, created especially for Aspen Santa Fe, is the emphasis put on the dancers' capabilities: the long lines of the women with their lovely muscular legs, raised toes and arched heels; the pirouettes; and the pas de deux, featuring an abundance of lifts and perfected transitions. All the dancers are good, but this is especially true of the women.

The dance compositions are abstract, aesthetic and professionally constructed. The movements, however, despite their complexity, do not have any hidden surprises. The choreographers provide the goods professionally, but the dance pieces, even though they are a pleasure to watch, don't necessarily make any waves.

Jiri Kylian's "Stamping Ground" is choreography of an entirely different category. This is one of the most intriguing works in movement language by Kylian, one of the best contemporary choreographers around. Inspired by aborigine dance, but lacking in ethnic pretensions, the piece captures Kylian's individual impressions of the characteristics and language of native Australian dance movements. Six dancers emerge from and disappear behind a large screen made of black strips hanging from the ceiling to the stage, which move subtly when touched, creating a kind of dream space.

The work is already well known, as it was first performed by the Netherlands Dance Theater, which Kylian used to direct - and so other troupes who take it on are judged in comparison to the original. Specifically, they must deal with movements uncharacteristic of the technique they were taught, including vibration of the torso, surprising combinations of asymmetrical movements and sudden stops as though divorced from reality.

Sense of inner wonder

Beyond the beauty of its dance language, this is also a work whose technical execution requires an almost magical feeling that it's actually unfolding somewhere "else." It requires dancers of exceptional sensitivity. The space around them must speak to them and their physical bodies with extraordinary feeling. The dancers must also have a sense of inner wonder - that held by creatures who live in a richly mysterious environment that is also somehow a part of them. They are supposed to grasp secrets unknown to the audience, so that each sudden stop in movement intrigues viewers. I found all of this in the performance I caught Tuesday at the Haifa Auditorium.

The troupe's two African American dancers stood out in particular, forging in movement their bodies' somatic memories.

For an audience generally unfamiliar with dance, this was an important opportunity to become acquainted with it. Aspen Santa Fe is a refreshingly good company, that has the ability to attract new audiences to modern dance. But while the group provides a high quality performance, it is doubtful that it will satisfy the demanding, perhaps spoiled eye of choreography fans who seek a unique experience.