Aspen Santa Fe
‘sans detour,’ ‘Ave Maria,’ ‘Vertical Dream,’ and ‘Noir Blanc’
July 2003 -- Ted
Shawn Theater at Jacob's Pillow, MA
Consistent with the title rather
than the inchoate content of 'sans detour,' choreographed by Dominique
Dumais, one plunges straight to the critical point—sans detour – which
is to say that the works presented by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at Jacob's
Pillow are to ballet as red is to green. Moreover, the claim, whether
made by those of artistic or critical acumen, that the 'contemporary ballet'
performed by the Aspen Santa Fe company points to the future of ballet
is to the meaning of word ballet as sand is to Vaseline. In fact, it is
the disconnect or the abrasive effect of -- rather than the painless flow
between the critical explanation for and the aesthetic experience of --
the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet that prompts one to christen this ad hoc drama
of dance and words: 'The Delusion of the Muse.'
Like the characters in 'The Delusion of the Fury,' a No-like drama on
the theme of justice and its impossibility, composed by Harry Partch,
the participants in the 'Delusion of the Muse' are adept at ventriloquy.
As the speakers in this drama throw their voices claiming then to hear
the radiant word of the Transcendent Muse so the dancers in like pursuit
throw their bodies about the stage. In works such as 'sans detour,' or
'Ave Maria,' choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, or 'Vertical Dream' by Nicolo
Fonte, for example, the dancers twist, bend, collapse, scream, claw, crawl,
and promenade a la stomach to a dreamlike variety of over-laid noise and
music and harsh rectangles of soulless light. This, so the explanatory
words for contemporary ballet claim, is serving indeed fulfilling the
destiny of Ballet. As a great philosopher once said, "Nonsense."
It is nonsense because if contemporary -- meaning modern as well as concurrent
-- is red and ballet is green, it is impossible for something to be at
once red and green all over. Moreover, as dance forms one knows 'modern'
from 'ballet' in the same way one knows red from green -- by examples.
Further, in a neat demonstration of the symbiotic relationship between
language and experience, words such as red, green, modern, and ballet
are not labels conveniently hung on their objects for an observer to read.
Rather the reverse is true. One points to a picture of Doris Humphrey
dancing, for example, and says, 'modern,' and then points to a picture
of Eva Evdokimova dancing and says, 'ballet.' This exercise demonstrates
not that one can read but rather that one can use the words modern and
ballet correctly. Yet, there is more. Before one can tell Doris from Eva,
however, one must know the grammar -- the rules -- the ethos -- the values
of Modern and of Ballet. And those values live in the pedagogic, choreographic,
and performance traditions of the dance forms.
In Studio 4 at the Alvin Ailey School in NYC, the Corps de Ballet - a
new professional organization formed "to serve and support the community
of university and college teachers of ballet" hosted on the first
day of their annual conference a panel titled “Ballet Methodologies.”
Collectively, the members of that panel reflected two centuries of continuous
ballet practices. For example, Frank Anderson, artistic director of the
Royal Danish Ballet, spoke for the Bournonville School, Susan Brooker,
a Fellow and Major Examiner of the Cecchetti Faculty of the Imperial Society
of Teachers of Dancing, spoke for the Cecchetti Method, Eva Evdokimova,
Prima Ballerina Assoluta, spoke for the Vaganova technique, and Bart Cooke
from the Balanchine Trust and NYCB alumnus spoke for the legacy of Balanchine.
In a sense, the techniques, methods, and styles the “Ballet Methodologies”
panel represent shape aspects of ballet's tacit governing body. And, as
civil governments define 'wetlands' or 'marriage' or 'death,' so the Bournonville,
Cecchetti, and Vaganova methods define the steps, their proper performance,
and ultimately the values that illustrate the correct use of the word
On the Great Lawn at Jacob's Pillow, mere hours before the Aspen Santa
Fe Ballet opened its week long engagement in the Ted Shawn Theatre, scholar-in-residence,
Maura Keefe, hosted a 'Pillow Talks' program titled, “Passing It On: Mentors
in Dance.” Although less formal and non-technical, Keefe's discussion
with her featured guests, choreographer Robert Battle and Milton Myers,
choreographer, renowned teacher, and Director of the Contemporary Traditions
program at the School of Jacob's Pillow duplicated the 'lessons' of the
“Ballet Methodologies” panel. In fact, the phrase, "the next logical
step," which Myers credits to Joyce Tristler as the way she described
her development of the Lester Horton Technique, serves as a shorthand
description of the 'legislative' efficacy of the 'logical steps' or the
methods, techniques, and styles that define Modern Dance. Moreover, what
constitutes the 'next' in the development of the 'logical steps' of each
method must, one thinks, blend, like the shades of a primary color, with
the values embodied in the traditions of those 'logical steps.' In the
Contemporary Traditions program at the School at Jacob's Pillow, then,
students learn – indeed, wear – the heritage of the art form they wish
to serve and how to use the words Modern Dance correctly.
Save for ‘Noir Blanc,’ conceived and directed by Moses Pendleton, which
via a clever use of black and white costumes, scrims, projections, and
mostly darkness delivered pleasing magical tricks, the other three canvases
or pieces on the Aspen Santa Fe program were overwhelming fields of reds
(contemporary dance) vaguely broken with tiny regions of the palest of
greens (ballet), scattered, flecked, or fogged upon them. While the Aspen
Santa Fe company may or may not contribute something to the values of
Modern Dance; it neither diminished nor enhanced the values of ballet.
Edited by Jeff.
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