“Sweet Fields” by the Aspen
If you’re like me, you were both
inspired and bemused by some of Friday night’s spectacular performances at Fall for Dance. Especially with the first performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet,
I was really curious about what I’d just seen when the lights came up. The choreography was stunning and the music
was enchanting…but what did all that just mean? I decided to find out a little
more about “Sweet Fields,” the first of the four performances for this year’s
Fall for Dance.
“Sweet Fields” is, as you could
probably tell by the hymn-filled soundtrack, a meditation of faith. The message
of spiritually harmony is communicated both through the white costumes and
geometric patterns of the choreography. The costumes—simple, loose cloth that
billows in the sleeves—are meant to evoke angelic figures, and they add a more
ethereal quality to the more rigid shapes the dancers form on stage. The
formations that the dancers create, including everything from diagonals to
spirals to circles, create a sense of balance through natural and crisp
patterns. The idea is that these formations evolve and build off of one another
throughout the performance, but they still maintain their harmonious essence.
The joyous aspect of faith is represented in the performance through the
upbeat, sometimes almost chant-like, chorus singing the hymns. The dancers
incorporate moves from 18th and 19th century dance that
match the time period of the hymns; you can see it when the dancers interweave
with one another and when they turn out their feet. The era that the dancers
capture also adds to the festive feel of the dance.
As it turns out, “Sweet Fields” is
a dance that was originally performed in 1996 by a company called Tharp! Ballet.
The choreographer was Twyla Tharp—who, coincidentally (or maybe not so
coincidentally) also won the 2008 Jerome Robinson Award that was presented
earlier in the evening. Since the 1960s, Tharp has been trying to combine
classical dance and ballet with more free movement, such as the skipping and
running we saw. She’s also the choreographer for some more mainstream projects
on Broadway, such as the film version of Singin’
in the Rain and Movin’ Out, the
musical based on the lyrics of Billy Joel. Although she obviously still works
with ballet, it looks like the later part of her career will continue to move
toward on screen projects.
Some helpful links:
A review of the first performance of “Sweet Fields”
Info about the Aspen
Ballet and “Sweet Fields”
A bio of Twyla Tharp, choreographer