Big opportunities in Aspen ballet for De La Cruz |

Big opportunities in Aspen ballet for De La Cruz

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Among the qualities that Norbert De La Cruz III cares to bring to the dance stage, along with musicality and partnering technique, is humility. So when De La Cruz, a 23-year-old from Los Angeles, was not offered a position with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet after auditioning last year, he exhibited understanding and openness. And when the ASFB later reached out to De La Cruz, asking him to choreograph a piece for the company, he was receptive and accepted the offer.And now, with the channels open, De La Cruz will dance with the company after all. In this weekend’s performances of “The Nutcracker,” De La Cruz will appear in the key role of the Jester. The appearance gives De La Cruz an opportunity to get to know the ASFB dancers while he begins creating a piece, with the working title “Edit & Burn,” to premiere at the ASFB’s Aspen performances in February.”Which is great,” De La Cruz said. “I’ve gotten to know the company directors and dancers one on one. I get to see them in class, not by playing phone tag.”After graduating from Juilliard’s dance program last year, De La Cruz was hoping to have an even closer association with the ASFB dancers. When the audition didn’t pan out, De La Cruz accepted the decision.”That was my 23rd audition, and one of the last ones. Any artist gets used to rejection,” he said. For De La Cruz, there is an additional factor in the auditioning process. He is 5-feet, 4-inches tall and knows that, while his height can sometimes be a career advantage, there are companies that he won’t fit into.”They liked me. But there was an issue with my height – which is always an issue,” De La Cruz, a native Filipino raised in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, said of the ASFB audition. “I was warned that my height might make things difficult. I know that I did what I could and that the external visual aspect of myself isn’t always wanted. It’s nothing I should take personally. It’s always what the directors want and need. I have to trust that they know what they want, their vision.”But ASFB directors Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty saw another side of De La Cruz. In New York last year, they watched a Juilliard student production that spotlighted works by six seniors. Among them was De La Cruz’s “Conceal the Unseen,” a contemporary work for six dancers that explored the movement of pedestrians and the arc from individuals to groups. In Italy last year, while dancing with Balletto Teatro di Torino, De La Cruz got a call from the Aspen company. The ASFB had been approached by the Jerome Robbins Foundation to participate in its New Essential Works program that fostered emerging choreographers. The ASFB company received the grant, and De La Cruz, who had taken choreography classes and created several small-scale pieces, had his first big commission.De La Cruz is in the early stages of creating the piece. He has some of the music – by Alva Noto, a German composer who uses electronic sounds; Handel’s Baroque Ariodante; and a music box-themed sequence composed by a friend – and some of the concepts he wants to explore. De La Cruz seems focused on the fundamentals of movement at this point; he said that some of the themes of the dance are lift, suspension, momentum and slides. Which seems appropriate for a 23-year-old.”I’m new,” he said. “I wouldn’t say amateur, but still discovering my voice. I want to reinvent movement, bring out my own quality, but also stay true to the vocabulary, celebrate dance as being humanitarian. You have to have something unique; you can’t fall into the cookie-cutter mold. But you don’t want to just throw things out there.”The working title “Edit & Burn” refers to De La Cruz’s view of the creation of art. “Artists create, then constantly modify – they get rid of their ideas, diminishing it in the end. You ‘burn’ – you throw it away. But it lasts; it becomes part of you. Like burning a CD – you replicate it.”De La Cruz hopes to pursue both dancing and choreographing. “It gives you a different eye,” he said of doing both. “You get the perspective of the audience. You can get too self-absorbed as a dancer. Being able to see another perspective, a bigger perspective – that’s fulfilling.”This weekend, he gets perspective on “The Nutcracker,” in which, amazingly, he has never performed. He never even saw “The Nutcracker” till he moved to New York. De La Cruz sees dancing the Jester as an opportunity for further exploration.”It’s flamboyant and sparkly,” he said. “It’s the opposite of what I am – very reserved and quiet. This character is always looking around. It’s kind of an honor, to be presented as the largest present.”

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