Seven bodies lie splayed on the stage floor, each in its own pool of light. On cue, their arms and legs convulse. A rack of lights descends toward them like a bank of microscopes.
In Norbert De la Cruz’s “Square None,” which opened Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s program last week, the dancers are like specimens under scrutiny. The recent Juilliard grad is the youngest choreographer the company has ever commissioned, and this work is very much of its generation. The score is a collage of disparate sources, from the poppy electronica of Aphex Twin to George Frideric Handel, and the movement vocabulary is similarly eclectic: Hip-hop body rolls lead into penché arabesques, and classical partnering devolves into club dancing. Forget theme and variation; “Square None” is theme, theme, theme. Yet despite the perpetual motion onstage, the technically exquisite dancers seem hardly to see each other. It’s no coincidence that Project Runway star Austin Scarlett designed the frilly leotards and ruched, high-waisted leggings; “Square None” belongs to the era of reality TV, where every action is calculated with the viewer in mind.
Few works could have provided a starker contrast than Jiří Kylián’s 1983 classic “Stamping Ground.” Inspired by Aboriginal culture, the dance begins in silence. One dancer emerges from behind strands of shimmering fabric upstage and lunges downstage, swinging her hips and thrusting her pelvis with startling intensity. Eventually, another dancer replaces her, and then another. Each one moves with such riveting clarity, it’s tempting to hold one’s breath. The idiom is animalistic — spines undulate, heads peck — and though there are moments of comedy, the dancers’ total absorption gives the work gravitas. By the time the percussion music kicks in and multiple dancers dart onstage, Kylián has established his theme; the dancers are clearly hard at play, and each new variation delights.
It’s an obvious choice to follow “Stamping Ground” with the work of Kylián’s protégé Jorma Elo. Elo’s “Over Glow” is a subtle blend of classical refinement and Kylián-esque comedy set to a score of Mendelssohn and Beethoven. There are plenty of chances to lapse into reverie, but something always calls us back: a bevy of flapping hands, a woman wriggling through her partner’s arms like a fish on a line. Elo’s often working in counterpoint to the music’s tone; sometimes a fanfare gets an explosion of movement, sometimes it gets nothing more than a foot picked up and dropped. In the end, one man catches his partner mid-run and holds her aloft while her flexed feet tread the air. Then, almost imperceptibly, she slows and stretches her motion until the lights go down on an extended classical line.