Stamping Their Mark

Stamping Ground choreographed by Jiri Kylian

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s mix of hard-hitting technique and animalistic tendencies left audience members in Dallas wanting more.

The age of contemporary ballet has arrived. From Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Odyssey Dance Theatre, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet,  contemporary ballet companies are popping up all over the U.S. While it’s great to see so many of these companies coming into their own, I can’t help but wonder what this explosion could mean for the future of dance. Will audiences get tired of the genre? Will all contemporary ballet companies start to resemble one another? After seeing the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas this past weekend, my doubts about the future of contemporary ballet have been laid to rest.

Fresh, innovative and strangely whimsical is how I would describe Saturday’s

A whimsical moment in Aspen Santa Fe Ballet's Stamping Ground.

performance. I have never seen anything like the pieces ASFB performed. Over Glow, Stamping Ground and Where We left Off prove that ASFB is truly in a league of its own.

I am all about finding the irony in life and it was as if Stamping Ground was made especially for me. The irony of the piece is that it’s called Stamping Ground and yet the ground wasn’t the dancers primary instrument. Each of the six dancers stamped out a different rhythm using mainly their hands and bodies.

The dancers movement resembled animals stalking their prey. They would glide, buzz, and slink across the stage while their hands stamped out syncopated beats on their back, chest and thighs. The rhythm was amplified by the lack of music. (Another irony.) Each dancer also had their own animal traits which they showcased in their solos. I was so absorbed with the movement that when the music kicked in during the group sections I was taken aback.

After all that silence, the repetitious drumming and chiming was very abrasive to my ears. But it grew on me as I saw it opened up a door of movement opportunities for the dancers. Their movement became more awkward and contorted. One male dancer went into a deep second plie facing upstage, wrapped his hands around his inner thighs, twisted his head over his right shoulder and waved. My favorite moment was when two of the male dancers turned a female dancer into a swinging pendulum. (See image above.)

I also appreciated the choreographer’s use of the stage. Where the back drop would normally be there was strips of long black material which enabled the dancers to enter and exit from upstage. (Yet another irony.) Dancers typically enter and exit from stage right or stage left. The climax came as the dancers began to exit through the strips, stopping when only their right leg was visible. And with the final chimes, one-by-one the dancers’ legs disappeared and the stage went black.

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