REVIEW: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet delights Pikes Peak Center audience

"Overglow" by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Photo by

Two things were very obvious at Thursday night's dance performance in Pikes Peak Center.

First, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is a world-class company that should probably remove the noun "ballet" from their name. Second, at this time, Colorado Springs does not have the audience to support first-class performances by this art form.

Even still, it was treat to have the company perform in Pikes Peak Center, even if it was only one-third filled. Sound and lighting were uniformly excellent and the theatrical aura was impressive. Kudos are due to the evening's presenter, the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre.

The evening was extremely entertaining and was an ideal showpiece for this company of 11 dancers. They meld into remarkably versatile ensemble blessed with a superior combination of theatrical awareness and physical facility.

The performance allowed the audience to leave the hall without being challenged by the complexities of the human condition or by reflection of the social or political realities of our age. I'm sure this was fine for many in attendance. But for me, I do have an expectation that contemporary art will at some point provide insight and at its best, catharsis.  

"Square None," a work commissioned from Norbert De La Cruz III that debuted in July, began the performance. In it, four men and three women in sparse attire found themselves under interrogation-like spotlights. At first, this was all contemporary dance, abstract as it presented various views of the body as living sculpture. The mood and  movements shifted along with an odd interjection of Handel opera. Here, De La Cruz seemed intent upon mocking an age of elegance as a hint of classical ballet made a brief cameo. There was even an odd moment of Flamenco that appeared out of nowhere.

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"Square None" never failed to be interesting but through its constant shifts in style and mood was more like indulging one's self with a plate of hors d'oeuvres than actually enjoying a main course.

The most memorable moment of the performance came in response to the legendary choreographer JiÅ™í Kylián's unique interpretation of Australian Aborigine ritual dance, "Stamping Ground." The opening, performed in silence, reminded me of the minimal style of animation that was in vogue in the 1960s and '70s. Not surprisingly, a group of young children from the rear of the hall found great humor in what they saw. And it was very funny. But a battle ensued as adults in attendance began shushing the young ones. I'm sure Kylián would have loved it.

In time, everyone got in on the fun as a flurry of percussion took over the soundscape. The ensemble of seven dancers were wildly in touch with the animal and warrior images found in this 1983 piece.

"Over Glow" (2011) was another ASFB commission from one of their frequent collaborators, Jorma Elo, and it finished out this highly energetic evening. Music in three parts by Mendelssohn and Beethoven was the perfect foil for Elo's light-hearted effort at deconstructing the classics. More Mr. Bean than Balanchine, the mockery wore on. Now in three couples, the dancers were finally able to show their very impressive ballet chops (this company does a highly-regarded "Nutcracker" every year). Still, Elo had to mess with the beauty of one of most noble moments in all of music, the Larghetto from Beethoven's Violin Concerto.

Any second thoughts about this work or for that matter, the entire evening, were wiped away by a whirling dervish of a finale danced to the last movement of Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony."

It was great to see this burgeoning company in the Springs. But if the city can't do better job supporting this art form, we may not have many more performances of dance of this quality.