Aspen ballet brings a little humor to its latest program
July 16, 2009
ASPEN – When Tom Mossbrucker danced with the Joffrey Ballet, he was introduced to the work of the Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian. And it was more than a brief passing; the Chicago-based Joffrey was the first American company to dance Kylian’s creations, and at one point it had a larger repertoire of Kylian’s work than any U.S. troupe. For Mossbrucker, dancing several of the pieces was an unsurpassed privilege.
“It was the most glorious thing you could possibly dance,” said Mossbrucker. “It feels so complete and organic. You have the feeling you’ve danced your whole life to dance this. And it’s not just me. All dancers wanted to go to Holland” – where Kylian became renowned as the longtime artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theatre, beginning in 1976 – “to dance with him. Almost every dancer in any ballet company. And every company wants to have his work in the repertoire.”
When Mossbrucker left the Joffrey to found what has become the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, he figured his involvement with Kylian was over. The Aspen company was a small start-up, and being based in a Colorado resort didn’t give him cause to think it would grow sufficiently in prominence to get the rights to Kylian’s work.
“I never dreamed we would have a choreographer like Kylian in the repertoire,” said Mossbrucker, the organization’s artistic director.
But Aspen Santa Fe Ballet took off like few could have imagined. Within a few years they were performing at top venues like New York City’s Joyce Theater, and the Jacob’s Pillow festival in Massachusetts. They were given the rights to dance works by George Balanchine. And three years ago, they performed “Petite Mort,” a 1991 piece that is part of Kylian’s six-part “Black and White” series.
The company gets to continue to explore the work of the choreographer whom Mossbrucker calls one of the three greatest in the world. (He also included William Forsythe on that list, but failed to mention the third.) The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet summer season opens this weekend, with performances Friday and Saturday, July 18, by the resident company. The program includes the local premiere of “Six Dances (Sechs Tanzes),” another piece in Kylian’s “Black and White” series.
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Where “Petite Mort” was what Mossbrucker called “semi-comical,” “Six Dances” is full-on comedy. The dance is set to Mozart’s “Sechs Deutsche Tänze,” and features several other Mozartean touches – powdered wigs, 18-century undergarments.
“It’s hilarious. Not really slapstick, but silliness,” said Mossbrucker, of the piece that features duets, trios and group segments. “It’s not easy to find ballets that are humorous, but in these times, we wanted to do a funny one.”
Mossbrucker said that the diverse nature of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers, who are versed in classical and contemporary styles, makes the company a good fit for Kylian’s work. The link was made tighter by Jorma Elo, a Finnish dancer and choreographer who danced with Kylian and has created pieces for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
Mossbrucker is pleased that the company gets to immerse itself in Kylian’s work. “We don’t like to bring choreographers just once. Especially a choreographer like Kylian,” he said, noting that the company is pursuing the opportunity to do more of Kylian’s pieces. “He advances the level of the company. It makes the dancers better; it elevates the company in the eyes of the dance world.”
Also on the program are “Sue’s Leg,” a prominent piece by Twyla Tharp; “Fugaz,” by Spanish-born choreographer Cayetano Soto; and “Chameleon,” by Israeli-born, Netherlands-based Itzik Galili.
This weekend also has the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company doing a kids-oriented performance on Saturday. The summer season continues with the New York-based Parsons Dance on July 24-25, with a Dance for Kids performance on July 25; An Evening of Stars, featuring company dancers appearing with dancers from American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, on July 31-Aug. 1; the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theatre Company on Aug. 3.
On Aug. 10, the company closes its local season with a performance at the Benedict Music Tent. The event, the third annual collaboration with the Aspen Music Festival, includes Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields” and Jorma Elo’s “Red Sweet,” and features a choir.