Vail International Dance Festival.
The 16th Vail International Dance Festival culminated with two top troupes: Victor Ullate Ballet and Les Ballets Africans.
Many companies are seeking a way forward by fusing classical ballet with other dance styles and influences. But none is doing it with more intelligence, flair, and virtuosity than Spain's 19-member Victor Ullate Ballet. Its founder and namesake began his career with Maurice Bejart's Ballets du XXe Siecle; clearly, he is continuing the inventive spirit of that groundbreaking company.
Ullate creates ranch of his ensemble's repertoire, but he also enjoys showcasing other like-minded talents, such as Hans van Manen, resident choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theater. The troupe's second program began with his Concertante, a masterful setting of a hauntingly potent work by Swiss composer Frank Martin. Putting the emphasis on precision, and contrasting textures of movement, van Manen works both with and against classical ballet. Something the dancers spin with their arms held unconventionally along the sides of the body or in a "V" pattern and at others, even seconds later, they use traditional port de bras. But for the most part, van Manen strips away ornamentation, creating a sense of spareness and coolness. The work unfolds in a deliberate, almost geometric fashion, with the choreographer articulating each individual movement.
Ullate's humorous pas de deux Itu ... Bailas? featured Luca Vetere in whiteface as a kind of Pierrot, a figure so lost in his thoughts that he is staring off into space as Natalia Tapia, a beautiful ballerina in white, enters. She executes a series of stunningly refined, classical steps with him as a kind of unwitting partner, and then departs just as mysteriously as she arrived, leaving him back in his reverie.
Rounding out the program was Ullate's Seguiriya, an ideal ensemble work for this Spanish company, with its stylish, propulsive synthesis of classical ballet, flamenco, and contemporary dance, some of the latter seemingly right out of a rock video. Ullate gives near-perfect physical form to Luis Delgado's music, which overlays hip, electronic sounds with traditional flamenco and its rhythmic clapping. The choreographer fuses the groundedness of flamenco with the airiness of ballet. The constantly changing movement can be rounded and fluid at times and then so staccato and fast that it evokes a strobelike effect.
Closing the festival was Les Ballets Africains. Founded in France in 1952 by Guinean poet acid choreographer Keita Fodeba, the company provided by dynamic symbol of the African spirit during a time of colonial strife. Once the Republic of Guinea gained its independence in 1958, the troupe traveled the world as cultural ambassadors. Now under the artistic leadership of Italo Zambo, it remains a vital force in African dance.
The company's 14 dancers lit up the festival with nonstop energy and eye-catching pageantry. The evening was divided into sections, each with its own colorful, often extravagant costumes, but no apparent central thread ran through them.
The dancers themselves were more impressive than what they were dancing. Despite the changing costumes and use of props, such as short, twirled whips, Hamidou Bangoura's choreography had a nagging sameness about it. This was especially true for the women, who returned again and again to the stage, performing a zestful combination of more or less identical movements: swirling arms, pulsing torsos, and high-stepping feet. The tone and mood rarely varied; it was almost entirely fast, muscular, and intense with almost no slow, tender sections. Likewise, most of the choreography focused on ensembles or solos, with little attention given to partnering and its intimacy. Some of these absent aspects reflect the particularities of African dance; still, the choreography lacked the genre's characteristic diversity.
Live music is as important as the dance during a performance of Les Ballets Africains. An organic, dynamic interaction occurs between musicians and dancers, with one group constantly responding to and feeding off the other. For this program, the company brought seven first-rate musicians, most playing an array of traditional drums. Sometimes they were center stage, with the dancers moving around them. And for the finale, all the dancers picked up instruments, merging music and dance in a manner resembling highly theatrical Japanese taiko drummers. A virtuosic performance of two spellbinding works on the rarely heard kora, a 22-string instrument with an alluring, harplike sound, was one of the evening's high points.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2004|
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