The Set-Up: On September 29, the Society for the Performing Arts kicked off its new season with a program performed by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB). The mixed-rep program included three dances by acclaimed choreographers Alejandro Cerrudo, Jiri Kylian and Jorma Elo.
The Execution: The beauty of the mixed-rep format is that it gives dance companies the opportunity to showcase their versatility. In the case of ASFB, not only did each choreography draw from different styles of movement, each opened a door to a completely separate world.
It might be best to start with Stamping Ground, a work of pure exotica by Jiri Kylian. Inspired by Aboriginal dance, the choreography imitates the movement of the native Australian wildlife. The first half was performed in silence, each dancer entering the stage as if emerging from the brush. It is unclear whether these graceful, yet, spastic creatures are birds, reptiles or mammals, but they are undeniably other. There's plenty of humor in this fine tuned menagerie; each critter acknowledges the next two-legged species as it exits, sometimes passively, sometimes in confrontation. The exchanges are brilliant in their comedic timing, thanks in large part to the commitment of the dancers.
The second half of the dance, performed to a thrilling percussion score by Carlos Chavez, resembled a frenzied circus. At this point, the animals have been lured into the spotlight; they still slither and flap and jump, but now it is almost like they are aware that they have an audience. Shapes and patterns become more intricate, and at one point, two dancers lift a third in the air between them. She swings back and forth, pendulum-like. It's another unusual movement in a dance that's anything but the usual.
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By comparison, Alejandro Cerrudo's Last portrays a distinctly human ethos. The dancers move in solemn accompaniment to the church bells and piano chords of the Henryk Gorecki music. They don't dance so much as glide across the stage, the liquid energy never seeming to stop even in the most elaborate combinations. For the first two segments of Last, there never seems to be a connection between the dancers. Even when they are engaged with one another, there is still a measure of space between them that suggests isolation, an inescapable and unsettling loneliness.
The adagio gives way to a manic frenzy of exaggerated frolic. There is plenty of prancing and running, but not of the exuberant variety. The dancers are stone-faced, and seem to hardly acknowledge one another; it becomes evidence that this is an exploration of our perpetual disconnect despite the high traffic of people who come in and out of our lives. That is, until we meet the one person that really matters. A smoldering duet closes the dance, both man and woman caressing each other in feline curiosity. It's an artful representation of the magic that happens when a true relationship if found amongst the dross.
The final piece, Jorma Elo's Over Glow, is one of those dances that seems to have been made out of pure beauty. The dance is a literal translation of the handsome Mendelssohn and Beethoven compositions, a statement of movement for movement's sake. The juxtaposition of classical music and contemporary ballet intensifies the gorgeous aesthetics. It's very pretty to look at, and sometimes that's all a dance needs to be.
The Verdict: Yes, Houston is a haven for all things movement, but that doesn't mean visitors aren't welcome. With companies this exciting, we're happy that the Society for the Performing Arts continues to serve up a healthy dose of dance. Next up: The Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker on October 12.