Above: dancer Seth Del Grasso of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Norbert De La Cruz's SQUARE NONE; photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
A in Friday October 19, 2012 - Aspen Santa Fe Ballet are at The Joyce with a three-part programme featuring Princess Grace Award-winner Norbert De La Cruz III's ballet SQUARE NONE; a new piece commissioned by The Joyce from Spanish choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo entitled LAST; and OVER GLOW by Jorma Elo.
SQUARE NONE is set to a musical collage in which Handel arias play a major role; these compilation scores don't always work but in this case the various elements have been so seamlessly woven together that it seemed almost inevitable. Of particular appeal was a music-box motif that gave a dreamy sense of mystery along the way.
Seth Johnson's lighting design made a major contribution to the success of SQUARE NONE, as did Austin Scarlett's handsome powder-blue costumes, the men shirtless in tapered trousers. The ballet begins with the dancers awakening on a floor that has been squared off. Each dancer inhabits their own space at first (and return to it at the end) but they are soon exploring the stage - and one another - in movement that is both architecturally compelling and emotionally communicative.
Norbert de La Cruz is one of the most purely beautiful movers that I have encountered over my years of dance-watching, and he brings elements of his own style to the ballet - smooth and with a sensuous fluidiity - while also incorporating more geometric design patterns. This juxtaposition keeps SQUARE NONE ever-fresh, and Norbert's setting of certain gestural elements on the music is striking. The dancers - all of who seemed to have a natural affinity for the choreography - come and go, linking into movement sub-units and then dispersing, only to appear again in different configurations.
The cumulative effect of all the elements made SQUARE ONE both impressive and enjoyable (the two do not always go hand-in-hand) and not only placed the ballet on my top list of 21st-century works to date but made me want to see more of Norbert's work.
Whatever ballet followed on the programme would have had a tough time by comparison to SQUARE ONE; Alejandro Cerrudo's LAST has many appealing elements but an overall air of greyness (both visually and musically) never lifted, despite erupting at one point in a folkish Henryk Gorecki theme. The work was very well-danced, especially in the partnering passages which were the most pleasing moments of the ballet.
By contrast the colorful world of Jorma Elo's OVER GLOW ended the evening on a high note. To music of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, the dancers moved thru hues of lemon-lime and sunset-purple which drenched the stage. In his fast-paced steps and complex gestural language, Jorma keeps the dancers in a highly animated state. Quirky, off-kilter passages abound yet they are constantly inter-laced with combinations straight out of the classic ballet textbook. Lifts and other feats of athleticism decorate the choreography, set - sometimes tongue-in-cheek - against grandiose musical themes. At the very end, a slyly witty reference to the sorting of the mortal couples in Balanchine's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM took its cue from the Mendelssohn fairy music. I enjoyed OVER GLOW immensely, just as I had enjoyed my first encounter with Elo's work: SLICE TO SHARP, his 2006 ballet which evoked a prolonged ovation at its New York City Ballet premiere.
The Aspen Santa Fe dancers are excellent, and I was happy to see Paul Busch among them, a dancer whose work at Juilliard and for the Columbia Ballet Collaborative I always enjoyed.