Aspen Santa Fe Balllet tour stop in France a homecoming for executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty |

Aspen Santa Fe Balllet tour stop in France a homecoming for executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Cayetano Soto's "Huma Rojo" is one of three works Aspen Santa Fe Ballet will perform at the .Le Temps d’Aimer la Danse in Biarritz, France.
Courtesy photo

An invitation for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to perform at a prestigious French dance festival also marks a homecoming for the company’s longtime executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty.

The Aspen-based company will perform a three-ballet program on Saturday at the Le Temps d’Aimer la Danse (Time to Love Dance) festival in Biarritz, France. The coastal city in the Basque region is also Malaty’s hometown, where he first discovered dance before leaving to study elsewhere as a teenager and to settle in the U.S., become an American and build Aspen Santa Fe Ballet into a renowned company.

“I’m proud to go back and share this company with France,” Malaty said before the trip.

The festival, founded in 1991, runs at multiple venues and takes over the city from Sept. 7 to 16. It has made Biarritz a hub for contemporary dance in recent years, but that was not the case when Malaty was growing up. As a child studying clowning, violin, acrobatics and other performing arts, Malaty recalled, he had to travel hours for ballet training.

“When I told my parents I wanted to dance, my father’s response was ‘What about rugby?’” Malaty recalled. “There was no dance, there was no ballet. Now they have a resident company and the festival — that was unthinkable.”

Le Temps has grown into one of the largest dance festivals in Europe, a hub showcasing the newest work in the contemporary dance world with a Eurocentric perspective (Aspen Santa Fe is the only American company invited this year). Malaty and Aspen Santa Fe artistic director Tom Mossbrucker will be scouting for new choreographers and potential companies at the festival.

Malaty left Biarritz when he was 16 — first to study dance in Belgium and Germany before coming to the U.S. at 19 to begin performing with Joffrey II. He initially discovered his passion for ballet through learning traditional Basque folk dances. His mother, father and brother still live in Biarritz.

The company will perform three of its recent hits: Jorma Elo’s” First Flash,” Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Silent Ghost” and Cayetano Soto’s “Huma Rojo.” Their performance, at the festival’s Casino Theatre venue, sold out in early August. Malaty noted, with a laugh, that the sell-out came before he could get tickets for his parents – leaving him scrambling to find seats for them.

This marks the company’s second invitation to the prestigious festival, following a 2004 performance. This time, Aspen Santa Fe is bringing 20 of its patrons along for seven days of events organized by the dance company.

“It’s something that we do with special destinations,” Malaty said. “We love it. It’s almost like taking our own fan club with us.”

The patron itinerary includes tours of the Basque region countryside and fishing ports, diners with the Aspen Santa Fe dancers, cooking classes, visits to the estate of poet and “Cyrano de Bergerac” author Edmond Rostand and the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum, along with ballet performances at the festival.

The homecoming performance is also something of a victory lap for the company following a creatively fertile stretch in 2018. After a run of several seasons of splashy premieres and new ballets — including the monumental Joyce Yang-Jorma Elo collaboration “Half/Cut/Split,” the new Bryan Aria work “Passion Samples,” and a company premiere of Alexander Ekman’s “Tuplet” this year – the company will be focusing on performing and touring for a bit, Malaty said.

The Biarritz performance begins a fall touring season that brings the company and Yang to Dallas (Oct. 26-27) and to Denver (Nov. 10-11). They’ll also perform with Yang this winter in Arizona and at the Joyce Theatre in New York and are booking performances into 2020. The Aspen season will include the company’s traditional “Nutcracker” performances and a yet-to-be-announced program.

And while going back to Biarritz is a meaningful personal and professional moment for Malaty, the U.S. and Aspen, he said, is his true home.

“Home is here for me,” he said. “I’m going to feel a little like a tourist.”