Aspen Santa Fe Ballet teams again with Aspen Music Fest |

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet teams again with Aspen Music Fest

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Rosalie O'ConnorThe Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dances Twyla Tharp's "Sweet Fields," with live music by Aspen Music Festival musicians, Monday at the Benedict Music Tent.

ASPEN – The natural pattern for collaborative efforts is a downward arc. Artistic collaborations begin with energy built on the promise that something new will come of combined visions.

Then ordinary life intervenes, and the collaborators realize that sustaining that initial rush is difficult, that schedules conflict, that inertia is pulling them back to their routine way of doing things. Case in point: the Traveling Wilburys, the mega-supergroup (Dylan, Petty, Harrison, et. als) that put out a splendid first album in 1988, but sounded at the end of their line by their second release two years later. It didn’t help that Roy Orbison died in the interim, though it does make the point that, in collaborations, stuff happens.

The dance between the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and the Aspen Music Festival, in its third year, is still on the upswing. The two organizations came together two years ago, when the ballet company performed at the Music Festival’s Benedict Music Tent to the accompaniment of a chamber group of Music Festival players. The audience response was striking, the artistic merit was obvious, the venue worked beautifully. So last year they stepped it up a notch, with an orchestra providing the music. Again, it felt as if the two organizations were not just adding their abilities, but multiplying them.

So they take another leap forward. Monday, when the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dances at the Music Tent, they will be joined by a full choir – the Colorado State University Choir – for Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields,” and a string ensemble, ranging from three to six pieces, for Jorma Elo’s “Red Sweet.”

Tom Mossbrucker, artistic director of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and Alan Fletcher, president of the Music Festival, agree that the fruitful collaboration stems largely from the presence of live music.

“For the dancers, it’s a heightened sense of being tuned in,” said Mossbrucker. “The music is live, as well as the dance. It’s not going to sound the same as it did the time before, or in rehearsal. There’s more of a synergy between the music and the dance.”

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“The power of having live music for dancers is a tremendous thing,” said Fletcher.

There is also the sense that this is a rare occasion. The two local groups come together just one night each summer in Aspen, and it’s not as though dance performances to live music are common outside of Aspen.

“There are few companies any more that can do that,” said Fletcher. “We’ve certainly got plenty of music in Aspen, and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has been zooming in national importance.”

The effect is heightened by the venue. The spaciousness of the Music Tent, rather than diminishing the dancers, has enhanced the scope of the performances. And while the stage is unusual for the dance company, with no wings and little lighting effects possible, Mossbrucker says they have used it as another element to shake up their routine way of doing things. He added that the company, with its frequent touring, is accustomed to adjusting to different venues. And to Mossbrucker, the Music Tent on its own has a special appeal.

“The tent is a spectacular venue,” he said. “Even if there’s nothing onstage, you’re in awe of it.”

Apart from the collaboration, tonight’s event has several components that should add to the special quality. The performance marks the last dance for three dancers retiring from the company: Lauren Alzamora, Eric Chase and Stephen Straub. It also will likely be the final performance of “Sweet Fields,” a signature Tharp piece that has also become, over five years, a key piece of the company’s repertoire. The piece, choreographed to Shaker hymns composed by William Billings, features all-white costumes, which Mossbrucker thinks will play magnificently against the white tent.

Mossbrucker conceded that there was one hitch in all this happiness. The stage in the Music Tent makes for an awfully hard surface for dance. He said it is a factor that weighs on the company members, and on their feet.

“But we’re not about to complain,” he concluded.

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