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Aspen Ballet shows its range

Stewart Oksenhorn

Those in attendance for the Aspen Ballet Company’s latest program of mixed repertory at the Wheeler Opera House will get a look at dance from a variety of angles.

The four featured pieces range from the Carnival-in-Rio-inspired “Batucada Fantastica,” a colorful presentation that has been a past hit for Aspen Ballet, to the more turmoil-filled “Purple Bend I,” a debut for the company, set to Samuel Barber’s signature composition, “Adagio for Strings.” The other two works on the program are equally opposite – the light-hearted “Who Cares?” another debut for Aspen Ballet, and choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s powerful “Black + White.”

“It’s extremes, extremes, all the time,” said Jean-Philippe Malaty who is, along with Tom Mossbrucker, one of Aspen Ballet’s co-artistic directors. “It’s drum music and Barber and Gershwin.”

The Gershwin piece, “Who Cares?” to which Malaty refers has a particularly interesting story behind it. In 1937, George Gershwin asked New York City Ballet director and choreographer George Balanchine to come to Hollywood to collaborate on a piece for the Samuel Goldwyn film “Follies.” Gershwin fell ill with a brain tumor before completing the ballet music for the film; in 1970, Balanchine choreographed “Who Cares?” to 16 songs composed by Gershwin.

For the Aspen Ballet Company, now entering its third season as a professional touring company, “Who Cares?” represents the second Balanchine piece it will perform, following last year’s successful presentation of Balanchine’s “Vals Fantasie.”

“It’s an accomplishment to get Balanchine pieces two years in a row from the Balanchine Trust,” said Malaty, adding that former New York City Ballet principal dancer John Clifford recently spent five days working with Aspen Ballet on the piece.

While Malaty described “Who Cares?” as “a nice light piece, inspired by Broadway and soft-shoe tapping,” choreographer Jimmy Gamonet de Los Heros’ “Purple Bend I” should leave the audience with a completely different feeling.

“It’s about internal turmoil and stress and pain,” said Malaty, adding that Aspen Ballet is the first company outside of Miami City Ballet to dance the piece. “It’s very abstract, but in the music and choreography, you can feel that internal battle and fighting taking shape.”

“Purple Bend I” offered Aspen Ballet the chance to collaborate with one of its neighbors in the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center. Local artist Betty Weiss, who has a studio across the hall from Aspen Ballet’s office, created a painting that serves as the backdrop for “Purple Bend I.”

Aspen Ballet performs its latest program at the Wheeler Opera House tonight and tomorrow. Show time both nights is at 7:30 p.m.


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