Aspen Dance sticks to its mission |

Aspen Dance sticks to its mission

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, colorado
Summers MooreAspen Dance Connection's Freedom of Expression show, including Melonie Buchanan's "Amazing Grace," will be presented Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House.

ASPEN ” Fran Page recognizes that Aspen Dance Connection, the organization she co-founded and serves as artistic executive director, inevitably lives in the shadow of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Aspen Dance Connection has a lower profile and a more modest reach, and Page is reluctant to even begin a comparison of the relative budgets of the two organizations.

Still, in her smaller field, Page aims for excellence. When Aspen Dance Connection presents its annual winter program devoted to the work of Colorado choreographers Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House, she is confident that audiences will be exposed to the best dance being created in the state.

Page points out that nearly all of the eight choreographers involved in the program, titled Freedom of Expression, are or have been associated with Colorado’s top dance programs ” at the University of Colorado, which has been offering a degree in dance for a half century; Mesa State College, which also awards dance degrees; the David Taylor Dance Company and Colorado Ballet.

Aspen Dance Connection is also one of the very few organizations devoted to Colorado choreographers. The Glenwood Springs Dance Festival folded years ago, with Colorado Dance Festival following suit in 2001. The Aspen group, however, is carrying on its mission.

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“We’re really nurturing the choreographers. The independent choreographers in Colorado, who don’t have a big organization behind them,” said the 61-year-old Page, who was part of a group of eight who founded Aspen Dance Connection 31 years ago.

While excellent work is a goal, stylistic conformity is not. In this past summer’s auditioning process, in which 15 choreographers were whittled down to a group of eight, there were no artistic boundaries placed on the applications. So Page ended up with a sprawling range of dance forms ” and a program that is aptly titled Freedom of Expression.

“Amazing Grace,” by Mesa State instructor Melonie Buchanan, is “Martha Graham style, twirling skirts and lot of legs,” said Page. Amy Anderson and Nick Jones give the tango style a humorous twist: “We had a tango performance five years ago, and it was very serious. Tango is usually very inward, intense, tuning into your partner and almost going into a trance,” noted Page. “This one, it’s legs all over the place. And Nick is hilarious, with wonderful timing.”

Another unusual piece of the show is the finale, by the Sterling Silver Company, a troupe of clog-dancers from Fort Collins. Ordinarily, clogging exists in a world of its own, at Irish-themed events, separate from modern dance or classical ballet. But Page was knocked out by decade-old Sterling Silver, which has had a week-long engagement in Branson, Mo., and has appeared in Italy and China.

“It was so much better than I expected,” said Page of the group’s audition video. “The company is so clean and strong and fast.”

Page, too, contributes to the hour-long show. Her “Flamenca,” a loose take on flamenco dancing, is a solo piece, danced by Audra Atkinson, and set to music by Colorado Latin-lounge band Cabaret Diosa.

Page said that Aspen Dance Connection has had to exhibit great flexibility to survive for three decades. In the early ’90s, it presented entire evenings of dance using only choreographers from the Roaring Fork Valley. This year, the artists come from Grand Junction, Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.

But the organization has maintained its original mission to present dance, expose children to dance, and serve as an information resource. Aspen Dance Connection reaches some 5,000 children from Aspen to Rifle, in programs presented in schools and libraries. And this summer, the organization will present its second edition of Eco-Fringe, a multimedia event ” including plenty of dance ” on the grounds and in the river surrounding the Aspen Art Museum.

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