An evening at the ballet, sort of

Aspen Santa Fe defines own brand of dance, acrobatics at Fort Lewis

Photography is forbidden at live performances of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, but as shown in this publicity photo, the group is creative and athletic, but is it really ballet? Enlarge photo

Rosalie O’Connor/Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Photography is forbidden at live performances of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, but as shown in this publicity photo, the group is creative and athletic, but is it really ballet?

The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers strutted their stuff Tuesday night at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. They’ve earned a big reputation through the last 20 years in that growing strata of really modern, modern dance: Homegrown, as is the trend, artistically entrepreneurial everyone loves to love (as in “I was Country before Country was cool”), and intrepid to the level where their appeal is so esoteric it shames an audience not to love them.

The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet per before with two 30-minute intermissions. Each piece was choreographed by putative masters in their diminutive profession, staged and lighted by postgraduates in those respective fields, and rehearsed to flawlessness by an ensemble of 10 of the most beautifully formed and lithesome athletes professional dance is famous for.

The opening number was scored by Mendelssohn and Beethoven; the final piece performed around the cacophonous music of Phillip Glass; and the middle offering, “Stamping Ground,” had no music for the first 20 minutes – the sound of the dancers’ breathing reverberated to the point of distraction around the hall – and then there was loud drumming composed by the ignominious Carols Chávez using native Yaqui percussion instruments.

Ballet was not what 227 onlookers got from this highly skilled troupe. Maybe that’s because the word itself is devolving as interest in classical 19th-century ballet and withering with passing generations. The definition of ballet is now up for grabs to describe any movement influenced by orchestration.

What was seen is better described as acrobatics with unlovely angular limb positions and vignettes of ballet poses held then collapsed to the floor, unsustained and disconnected from gateway movement theoretically inducing dance. It was more akin to ice dancing — swinging arms, ducking, bending and twirling – than the most permissive definition of ballet. And if they had ice, it would have saved the squad from running around the stage for what had to be miles before the curtain ended their misery of oxygen starvation at the Campus in the Sky.

The spectacle itself offered up by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is the combined athletic abilities and ordeal of the dancers, who all have résumés with advanced degrees from the likes of The Juilliard School, and each of whom worked to exhaustion in accommodating choreography from hell. Their exertion, picking-up and putting-down, their running and flailing and twisting into impossible positions, jumping onto and over and under the others, was flawless and ridiculous and eventually boring.

But that can’t be right. This is the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and the audience showed saturnalian enthusiasm, almost propelled from their seats in regard as curtains fell once, twice, then finally. But during intermissions long enough to make new friends and swill some wine or a bottled water, nothing was being said about the performance. The crowd was eerily quiet about the extravaganza just witnessed, which is most unusual. It was as if the show had yet to begin, or what they saw was instantly forgotten until the next intermission or the final bows, again bringing everybody to their feet in exaltation before talking with their seat mates and new friends made during the intermissions.

We are indeed indebted to the Community Concert Hall for bringing in eclectic shows, such as the Aspen Sante Fe Ballet. Performance art is a risky business, and pushing the envelope expands our artistic literacy whether we like it or not.

Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author. Reach him at