Aspen ballet finally gets its man |

Aspen ballet finally gets its man

Tighter immigration laws caused a number of problems for the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet this season, but one renowned European choreographer has finally arrived in Aspen.

Jacopo Godani, choreographer for the Monte Carlo Ballet, was slated to create a new repertory for the local ballet company when his application for a visa was rejected by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in January. The dancers were scheduled to premier the unique piece at Jacob’s Pillow, a well-known dance festival in Massachusetts, but plans had to be changed to make up for the choreographer’s visa denial.

Locally, the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet scrambled to reschedule its own summer program, reprinting schedules and canceling lighting and costume work.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks on Washington and New York, the INS, working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, screens visa applications for prospective visitors more closely than ever before. In Godani’s case, that meant eight months of waiting for approval.

His visa was approved on Friday, after two visits to the consulate in Paris. He arrived in Aspen on Saturday, and has been getting to know the town, the ballet company and its dancers.

“I’ve met so many people here, and the atmosphere is great,” Godani said yesterday.

The native of La Spezia, Italy, said he has no idea what kind of dance program he will create, but he’s working on the project by getting to know all of the dancers first.

“It would be silly to come up with a specific idea for them here – I’d rather create something that’s just for them,” Godani said. “It’s very important to get to know the people personally and the kind of talent they have.”

The issue of visas for artists got the attention of the performing arts community on a national and even international level. Since Godani is renowned for his work in Europe, Tom Mossbrucker, artistic director for the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet, said he received e-mails from a person in Switzerland who promised to encourage the Swiss Consulate to help out. And Dance International magazine published an article on the visa troubles.

The type of visa the ballet company was trying to obtain is known as an “alien of extraordinary ability of the arts” visa. The designation meant the company had to prove the extraordinary extent of Godani’s work and the importance of bringing his style of choreography to the United States.

“They kept saying the information we submitted is insignificant because his significance wasn’t demonstrated,” said Mossbrucker. “That we didn’t prove that the Frankfurt or the Monte Carlo ballets were world-class ballet companies.”

Godani has worked all over Europe, and is considered one of the continent’s most famous choreographers, having worked with the Royal Ballet and the Danish Ballet.

Just after receiving the rejection letter, Mossbrucker attended an arts conference in Phoenix, where he met Jonathan Ginsburg, a top immigration lawyer in the country. Ginsburg agreed to help the troupe with the case.

The attorney filed a petition on Godani’s behalf for a reconsideration, and when it was approved the choreographer still had to do a face-to-face interview to get his visa. He was turned away once because of a misun-

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derstanding, but was granted the visa the next day.

Godani said he was surprised at the extreme screening level he was subjected to, especially because of all the credentials he had to demonstrate his expertise.

“I understand, but I don’t think it was motivated with my situation,” Godani said. “I think there was enough proof that I was not a terrorist, so they could have been a bit less skeptical.”

Mossbrucker said he felt it was unfortunate that Godani was treated poorly throughout the visa application process, and that it makes him think twice about bringing other artists to Aspen from outside the country.

“This is a time of transition for the Office of Homeland Security, and hopefully things will be in a better state the next time we want to bring someone here,” he said. “It’s hard, because a lot of things that are happening in the dance world are in Europe. And the hard thing about immigration is that you have no recourse. There’s often nothing you can do.”

Godani, who is here for five weeks, will create a ballet to be performed first in Santa Fe on Sept. 12. The ballet should be performed in Aspen in January.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]

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