Ballet West returns to the stage in Aspen
The Aspen Times
If You Go…
What: Ballet West, presented by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Where: Aspen District Theatre
When: Saturday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m.
Tickets and more information: http://www.aspensantafeballet.com
These days, Aspenites who are familiar with Salt Lake City-based Ballet West probably know the dance company — like most Americans — from the reality television show “Breaking Pointe.”
As some longtime locals will recall, however, it was Ballet West that brought ballet to Aspen and set the stage for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the locally based company that closes its summer festival season Saturday by welcoming Ballet West back.
Founded in 1963, the company first came to Aspen in 1970, beginning a summer residency program that staged Ballet West’s classical performances here in tents and school gymnasiums. Through the ’70s, the troupe made a summer home here. Though the residencies ended, ballet stayed.
“It was the beginning of the history of dance in Aspen,” Aspen Santa Fe executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty said earlier this summer.
The long-running Utah company’s performances in Aspen established an audience for ballet here and helped lead to the formation of Ballet Aspen, which began bringing national dance companies to town for performances. Ballet Aspen evolved into Dance Aspen, a full-time presenting organization. When Dance Aspen went under in the late 1990s, shortly after the 1996 founding of the Aspen Ballet Company — which would later become Aspen Santa Fe Ballet — the young company took up the mantel of dance presentations here. The Aspen City Council, Malaty recalled, asked the nascent dance company to take over as a presenter of visiting dance companies, a role the organization has continued ever since.
Ballet West last returned to Aspen in 2006. Malaty characterized the company’s one-night performance as “a tribute to the origins of ballet in Aspen.”
Christine Gershel, of the charitable arts organization Les Dames d’Aspen, and whose involvement with local dance companies dates back to 1981, credited Ballet West for laying the groundwork for Aspen Santa Fe.
“It was thanks to them that everything started,” she said. “They were wonderful, and they grew the sense of appreciation for dance here.”
Ballet West’s current artistic director, Adam Sklute, noted that ballet has a long history in the mountain west that spread from city centers like Salt Lake.
“Sure, [dance companies] developed in New York City, but they also grew strongly in places like San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, and here in Salt Lake City,” he said.
Ballet West was founded by William F. Christiansen, a Utah native who began staging ballet productions at the University of Utah in 1949. The company has since become a world leader among regional dance companies.
Most recently, the 50-member company has helped popularize dance for young people through “Breaking Pointe,” which began running on the CW in 2012 and finished its run earlier this year. The docu-soap chronicled the behind-the-scenes drama of the company — documenting romances and rivalries among its dancers.
Its reality TV fame aside, Saturday’s performance closing the summer season includes work also spanning six decades of dance.
The company’s performance on Saturday opens with father of American ballet George Balanchine’s iconic “Divertimento No. 15,” which he is said to have called his favorite composition, and which debuted in 1956.
Set to Mozart, the piece is classical in style, but Sklute said it would be palatable to local dance enthusiasts who are accustomed to the sleek contemporary approach of Aspen Santa Fe.
“It has an energy and a lightness to it, so it has a contemporary edge though it’s a classical work,” he said. “It’s a great example of Balanchine’s work and how he creates patterns and forms and challenges the dancers in elegant ways.”
The Balanchine will be followed by a piece by choreographer Nicolo Fonte. No stranger to Aspen audiences, Fonte’s works have frequently been staged by Aspen Santa Fe. Fonte is the resident choreographer at Ballet West.
The program also includes Balanchine’s “Rubies,” the pas de deux of which Sklute calls “quirky and funny, but dramatic, like a jewel itself.”
The evening closes with a new commissioned work by Jodie Gates — a former Joffrey Ballet dancer who performed with Aspen Santa Fe artistic director Tom Mossbrucker and Sklute during their time there. It’s a full company piece, using all 20 of the dancers that Ballet West is bringing to Aspen.