Friday night I went to the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. A very pleasant experience considering my expectations were low and I was up in the cheapseats. They performed pieces by three different choreographers: Twyla Tharp, Jorma Elo, and Moses Pendelton.
I went to the ballet specifically to see the first piece: Sweet Fields, choreographed by Twyla Tharp. It’s set to Shaker hymns, which were so gorgeous I would have bought a ticket just to listen to them (unfortunately they were recorded, not live). The movements where modeled after traditional Shaker worship. ** A side note, Shakers haven’t really shaken in a long time, they just walk around in a circle swinging their hands up to their chest and down again. ** But Tharp definitely knows this and the translation/interpretation is pretty effective, esp the kicks as they relate to that Shaker arm-swing. The dancers’ outfits were also perfect: these charming loosely hanging shirts added the right amount of lightness to some pretty heavy movements/gestures. To me, that’s what worship is all about: the heavy and the light.
Ever since I’ve seen the documentary on Shakers I’ve been sort of obsessed with their relationship to activity/activities. Shakers were sort of like worker bees: but bees for the glory of God. Since they weren’t judgmental or witch hunters or into other crazy isolationist acts (maybe the no-sex things seems crazy, but it makes sense to me), their thing was activity and craftsmanship. I keep wondering about that relationship to activity. How does it bring one closer to God? A question for the cosmos I suppose, but I was secretly wishing the dance would get into this question. Unfortunately it didn’t, but the dance was still very lovely and personable (which is an odd word to describe a dance, but apt).
The second dance was choreographed by Jorma Elo. A few weeks ago I saw ‘Lost on SLOW’, a piece of his, but felt wishywashy about it. I was really shocked how much I enjoyed this one (I can’t remember the name). Where Lost to SLOW seemed to be dancing about dancing (like ballet was looking into the mirror and making faces), this piece felt like a balletic romp. A pure system, instead of trying to figure out what to be (I believe the other piece sort of tried to be ‘puppeting’ dance or some such thing). And so energetic and new. Yay! I’m now a fan and can’t wait to see another.
The last piece is hardly worth talking about, but was a real crowdpleaser. In Noir Blanc, choreographed by Moses Pendelton, dancers appeared to be black-lit aliens wearing half-black, half-white suits. Projected on a semi-translucent screen, pictures of planets and other-worldlinesses slowly panned to the beat of quintessentially new age tunes. The dance was mostly just creating optical forms and illusions in the glowing suits. [and the audience says ‘ahhhhhhh’] Snore. I guess you have to pay your bills somehow. Jorma certainly isn’t for everyone…