Aspen Santa Fe Ballet brings spring premieres to Philly

Catch Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Prince May 3 through 7. (Image courtesy of ASFB.)

In the dark times

Will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing.

About the dark times.
-Bertolt Brecht, motto to Svendborg Poems, 1939  

In these wonky, hinky, too-rinky-dinky-to-call-dark times, what we need now is some of that “I’d like to teach the world to sing” feeling. Or some good old-fashioned eudaemonia, Aristotle’s concept of achieving the highest human good.

Eudaemonia was the title of the first piece on Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s (ASFB) mid-April three-piece program for an audience of almost a thousand at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. In terms of the evening achieving the highest human good, the entire show was eudaemonian. Take heart, Philly: This stellar American company of 12 closes the 2017 NextMove Dance season with the same show at the Prince Theater, May 3 through 7.

Powerful commissions

Cherise Barton is the eldest sister of Aszure Barton and Artists, a Canadian family and company that exudes eudaemonia in all its endeavors. She created this 2017 work as a commission for ASFB’s artistic director Tom Mossbrucker and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty.

Mossbrucker and Malaty are now celebrating the company’s 20th anniversary since taking the reins from its founder, Bebe Schweppe. Like me, you may have first seen this company at the Kimmel Center in 2010, in stunning performances of works by Nicolo Fonte, William Forsythe, and Jorma Elo. At the time, I challenged the Pennsylvania Ballet to commission Fonte. BalletX beat them to the punch in 2013.

Taking over Pennsylvania Ballet, Angel Corella quickly corrected that oversight with 2015’s amazing Grace Action by Fonte, and earlier this month with his Ghost Stories. Commissioning American and internationally acclaimed choreographers distinguishes and revivifies American ballet companies.

Mossbrucker and Malaty excel at this formula and with this May program at the Prince, give Philadelphia premieres by Barton, Madrid-born Alejandro Cerrudo, and Barcelona-born and -based Cayetano Soto. (Corella, take note: This one’s for you, bud.)

Eudaemonia, Silent Ghost, and Huma Rojo

Barton’s Eudaemonia opens on an electric-blue surface rectangled by footlights to Jimmy Durante’s mournful "Smile." Pete Leo Walker unnerves us with his deep-knee drops and happy-go-lucky hat tricks. By the time the work’s nine dancers sit in a group-therapy style circle of chairs, you’ve realized the dance is about the struggle to be happy -- and, by the end, you are.

On the other hand, Cerrudo’s 2015 Silent Ghost will break your heart with its solemn beauty. Marked by wide-legged stances, deep lunges, and slo-mo cantilevered pulls and lifts to moody alt-rock music, it weaves through enigmatic emotions. Craig Black and Emily Proctor’s sensuous duet will leave you aching with lovesickness.

Following this floor-grounded, grey-shaded dance poem, Huma Rojo is the kicker to wait for through the second intermission. Here, the red-clad dancers stay tall and vertical, keeping stiff port-de-bras as they spoof Spanish dances. Men’s hands become mantilla combs crowning their heads or coy fans batted under their eyes, while torsos and behinds wriggle. Eyebrows raise, smiles smolder, melodrama reigns — to everyone’s delight.

Will there be singing in the dark times? Maybe not so much. But dance will brighten those times.

NextMove Dance presents a trio of Philadelphia premieres from Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Prince Theater (1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia) for six performances, May 3 through 7. Tickets ($20 to $60) are available online

At right: Pete Leo Walker and Katherine Bolanos in Huma Rojo. (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.)