The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet returned Friday evening to Santa Fe’s Lensic Theatre with four stunning ballets. The company introduced two newer works, an excerpt from Karole Armitage’s mystical “Time is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood,” and Jorma Elo’s eloquently musical “1st Flash.” They repeated Edwaard Liang’s darkly sensual “Whispers in the Dark,” and Twila Tharp’s stylish “Sinatra Suite.”.
Armitage’s “Time is the Echo of an Axe within a Wood,” to Béla Bartok’s haunting music for strings, percussion and celesta, was the central duet from her hour-long work. Katie Dehler and Eric Chase moved in a magical dream-space as smoothly sliding gestures broke into sudden spasmodic accents.
Dehler entered through a curtain of opaque strips, seeming trapped in a witch’s spell. Arms wove with smooth intensity, then twisted convulsively as her torso contracted. When Chase entered, he became the source of magic control; the two explored time and space with gripping force. In the end Chase slowly disappeared into darkness. The lights faded as Dehler walked alone toward the back curtain, into some surreal space.
In “1st Flash” Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo described the landscape of Jean Sibelius’s musical mind as perceived in the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in d-minor. The Flash describes moments of inspiration: six dancers explode, jitter, rush forward, and strike out in frantic muscularity beneath a rectangle of light that slowly rises at stage right. At moments the dancers appeared as grey entities within the brain, moving with distorted shapes that described with physical beauty the vigorous, powerful strokes of the violin’s bowing. This dance was intensely musical, mirroring the dark splendor of Sibelius’s emotional extremes.
Liang’s “Whispers in the Dark,” to music by Philip Glass, had the fluidity of the rivers evoked in Glass’s music. The dancers emerged like images in a sensual dream from the darkness of the upstage curtain. At first they moved toward the audience, then retreated, gaining solidity with each repeated sally into the light.
The ballet was designed in four parts with six dancers forming three couples. Part 2 revealed two men upstage, first obscuring the women behind them, then drawing them out into partnering that whirled a foot above the floor, or glided in slides across the floor.
Part 3 began as a male solo, then developed into a passionate wooing of his partner as he lured her toward center stage. It was a tender stalking, with lithe torsos expressing both pain and joy.
The last section brought all three couples on stage in running, sliding moves, ending as they left the light and disappeared into upstage darkness.
Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite” traced a relationship from beginning to end through four songs by Frank Sinatra. Brooke Klinger and Seth DelGrasso danced in formal ballroom attire. “Strangers in the Night,” brought the couple together as they danced with tentative flutters of a foot here and there, their bodies pulling away, then twirling together. “That’s Life” became a sassy confrontation between the two, with a comic French apache touch as DelGrasso pulled her through his legs, buttocks first.
“I Did It My Way” was a swooping adagio as DelGrasso scooped Klinger into his arms to glide across the floor in a slow waltz.
The suite ended on a bitter note with DelGrasso’s solo to “One More for the Road.” A languid tilting of his body, slightly off balance, alternated with dramatic sensitivity as his drooping posture broke into passionate high turning leaps. At one point he combined a leap, twist in the air, drop to the floor, and smooth recovery on his feet that looked effortless.