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Aspen Ballet steps into new venture

Stewart Oksenhorn

As of Sept. 1, the success story that has been the Aspen Ballet Company will be no longer. Leaping into its place will be the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, a co-venture between Aspen Ballet and the Santa Fe Festival Ballet that will make the new troupe the resident dance company of two art-minded, iconic Western towns.

Aspen Ballet, in the middle of its fourth season, had been seriously contemplating some sort of co-venture with another Western city for some time, according to Aspen Ballet co-artistic director Jean-Philippe Malaty. Santa Fe quickly rose to the top of the list for several reasons: Aspen Ballet had performed in Santa Fe for the past two years – to good reviews and excellent crowds; the presentation of the “Nutcracker” this past December sold out five shows at the 514-seat Greer Garson Theatre. And, Santa Fe, like Aspen, is known for its thriving arts scene.

The capping touch came in November, after the board of directors of the Santa Fe Festival Ballet decided not to renew its contract with its director, Henry Holth. That left the Santa Fe Festival Ballet, which had been presenting a two-week summer season of all new repertoire for three years, with no director and no direction. Mary Anne Larsen, co-chair of the Festival Ballet’s board of directors, phoned Aspen Ballet to see if the two organizations could join forces.

“She approached us and said, `Is there a way we can work together?'” said Malaty. “Santa Fe’s been looking for a long time to have its own company.

“For the past years of touring, we’ve been looking for a place, another market, where we could be supported by another community. We looked at the response of the community when we toured, the critics, the box office. And Santa Fe came out on the top of the list.”

The fit between Aspen Ballet and Santa Fe makes great sense to Malaty. Not only does it fill the dance void in Santa Fe, but it will provide the dancers of Aspen Ballet with several more weeks of work. Early proposals would have Aspen Ballet performing four separate week-long programs in Santa Fe over the first year of the co-venture. Being the resident company of two towns will expand the fund-raising base for the organization, as well, Malaty noted, and Aspen and Santa Fe are close enough that travel costs will not be a major factor.

Additionally, Santa Fe had a dance school, the decade-old Santa Fe Dance Foundation, that was similar to the Aspen Ballet School. Coincidentally, the school, directed by Gisela Genschow, was up for sale. As part of the co-venture, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet will buy the assets of the Dance Foundation, and the facility will become the official school of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Santa Fe.

“We feel we have all the links,” said Malaty, who has directed Aspen Ballet with co-artistic director Tom Mossbrucker, and company founder Bebe Schweppe, since its inception in 1996. “We have a school, which is the foundation for any program. We have the product. And we have the board already in place .very prominent in the community and very well-connected.”

Malaty said the former board of the Santa Fe Festival Ballet will play a prominent role in the economics of the new organization.

“It’s not a merger,” said Malaty, adding that he and Mossbrucker will still direct the organization, and the overall program will be run from Aspen, with an administrator overseeing the Santa Fe portion of the co-venture. “Aspen money is not going to be going to Santa Fe. They’re responsible for their own side of the deal. Santa Fe will pay for its own expenses for the company’s performances there, and for the school and for the marketing. It’s a co-venture. If they don’t sell tickets for the Santa Fe performances, they’ll have to raise money in Santa Fe.”

The mood seems equally enthusiastic in Santa Fe. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet will become the only professional company in New Mexico, and while no performances are immediately planned outside of Santa Fe, there is the possibility that the company could expand its touring efforts into Albuquerque and other New Mexico towns.

“We’re absolutely thrilled. We believe it’s going to be a fantastic co-venture for the two towns,” said Larsen. “We had seen them perform, and heard a lot of good things about Aspen Ballet. We were very impressed with what they had done.”

The new arrangement drastically changes the face of professional dance in Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Festival Ballet had, for three years, brought in outside companies for a two-week festival each summer. The repertoire consisted entirely of new works. Aspen Santa Fe will present its typically eclectic programs of contemporary works in Santa Fe, as well as its annual performance of the “Nutcracker,” as well as Aspen Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet” and the children’s program, “A Children’s Rainforest Odyssey.”

The deal is expected to become official on Sept. 1. “It’s like we’ve been dating with Santa Fe for awhile,” said Malaty. “Now we’re getting engaged. There are still a lot of details and questions. But it’s fantastic.”


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