Break dance |

Break dance

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

In his work, choreographer Jacopo Godani aims at capturing the essence of body movement, the full range of what is possible in dance. His worst enemy in doing so, it seems, are dance steps. Just as words can place boundaries on the expressible, formal, codified dance moves can limit bodily freedom.

If it were possible to choreograph without using dance steps at all, Godani would probably do so. Rehearsing his recent piece “Life Forms” with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, he barks out the occasional command with the fewest number of words and the purest sense of emotion possible. “Kick more ass. Like the X Games,” Godani shouts at the 11 ASFB dancers. Then: “This is not ‘cute.'” And finally, in an alarmingly loud voice: “STRONGER!” It is his way of breaking down what the dancers have learned, and helping them discover body movement in its most elemental form.

“I try to explore all the body possibilities, to make them move in every way,” said the 36-year-old Godani, an Italian native who has made his home in Monte Carlo for the past year and a half. “To let the body explore each dimension, each instinct, all the animal qualities before we educated and developed our bodies. To reinstall that program that was erased when they started to educate us.”

“Life Forms,” commissioned by the ASFB and representing Godani’s first work with an American company, has that primal feel. The piece, premiered in Santa Fe in September and part of the program of mixed repertory this week in Aspen, is wildly energetic and far-ranging. At times, all 11 company dancers are locked in coordinated, ensemble movement; other segments focus on individual dancers or smaller groups, while the other dancers move around the perimeter of the stage. The score by Spanish composer Diego Dall’osto, also commissioned by the ASFB, is jagged and nervous contemporary string music. “Life Forms,” with costumes and lighting also by Godani, runs 30 minutes, making it a workout for dancers and audience.

Godani says that “Life Forms” is typical of his work. The idea is to see just how much the body is capable of.

“In general, everything I do is primitively oriented,” said Godani, who spent two months in Aspen this past summer working on “Life Forms” and has been here another two weeks this winter fine-tuning the dance. “Through style and education, we sort of forget about how much potential our bodies have. It’s important to re-acknowledge all those things and re-express them. Anything that defines a style or codifies it ” even language ” is a limitation. Dance steps are a limitation. So sometimes I just need a person to express the body through the joints and movements, not through the choreography. There is so much more the body can do, and I feel sorry because dance steps limit that.

“The body has a million possibilities, but normally styles use just a few of those. And I can’t stand it.”

Godani’s views on potential and limitations extend beyond dance. His ideas on freedom are not confined to the body, but extend to the mind as well.

“As a lifestyle, it is important to be able to open up and be conscious of how many things you can do,” said Godani, who grew up in the coastal region of La Spezia in northern Italy studying fine art before taking a dance class at 17 and discovering a love for movement. “We are growing in a way that we believe that we can find freedom in these little styles we have. It must always stick to a parameter. I think human beings don’t really look for freedom. Or just a little bit of freedom. We’re always looking for excuses not to be free.”

Even in a world where freedom is exercised in small doses, Godani sees even less freedom practiced in his chosen field. “Dance, somehow, has remained something, usually actionwise, with one very simple thing going on ” and only that,” he said. “And that kind of pisses me off. Nowadays, there is so much visually going on in music videos and television, but dance somehow has remained simple and focused on one thing.

“I like to keep up with the times. I want an evolution. I want action.”

The Aspen connection

Godani studied dance early on in Brussels, at the school Mudra, where fellow aspiring dancer Jean-Philippe Malaty was a year ahead of him. Malaty eventually ended up co-founding with Tom Mossbrucker the Aspen Ballet Company ” now Aspen Santa Fe Ballet ” a position that had him keep an eye on choreographic talent around the world.

Among those who eventually caught his eye was his old schoolmate. After school, Godani danced with a series of small French contemporary companies; for a year, he staged productions under his own name. In 1991, he joined the Frankfurt Ballet and worked under William Forsythe, the American-born choreographer who, according to Godani, changed the course of dance over the last 20 years by using classical styles in a contemporary manner.

Over the course of his dancing career, Godani also choreographed. When he left the Frankfurt Ballet in 2000, he focused on choreography and made a name for himself throughout Europe. He has created dances for most every major European company, including England’s Royal Ballet and the Monte Carlo Ballet, which has done a Godani piece every year for several years.

Malaty was well aware of Godani’s emergence as a choreographer and was anxious for the ASFB to be the first American company to premiere one of Godani’s pieces. Arrangements were made to have Godani create a dance early in 2002, but Godani was denied a work visa. He wasn’t too upset about the delay, but was curious how a choreographer ” even one as fierce about the art as he is ” could be seen as a threat.

“I thought, what is this all about?” he said. “It was ridiculous. They had all the information about me. They knew all of my work in Europe. They can see all this information and know that I’m not a terrorist.”

Along with Godani’s “Life Forms” and Malandain’s “Afternoon of a faun,” the ASFB’s program of mixed repertory includes Dwight Rhoden’s pas de deux “Ave Maria,” excerpted from Rhoden’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and performed by Seth DelGrasso and Brooke Klinger; and Septime Webre’s “Fluctuating Hemlines.”

The ASFB performs Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 29-31, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aspen District Theatre.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is