Not long ago, Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty claimed that when they founded the Aspen Ballet Company, they had no idea just what the troupe would be: A training company? A minor-league professional ballet? At the same time, they didn’t express much surprise that the organization, now known as Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, has landed as a top-flight company. Virtually every year, the ASFB has added a major notch to its tights, whether performing at New York’s Joyce Theater, being invited to the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow festival in Massachusetts, or commissioning works from the world’s top choreographers. Mossbrucker and Malaty have shown sure footing every step of the way, proving themselves excellent ambassadors for both dance and Aspen, and demonstrating impeccable taste in their artistic choices. So there’s much to be celebrated when the ASFB presents its 10th anniversary Gala Performances, Friday through Sunday, Jan. 27-29, at the Aspen District Theatre. The program includes two world premieres created for the company, by Jorma Elo and Edwaard Liang.
Those brought way down by “Angela’s Ashes,” the heart-piercing memoir of growing up impoverished in Ireland, may be surprised by “Teacher Man,” the latest book from Frank McCourt. The third in a series of memoirs, “Teacher Man” tells of McCourt’s struggles against bureaucracy and his own insecurities during his 30 years teaching in New York City’s public schools. McCourt brings plenty of humor and warmth to the story of becoming a successful educator by tossing out the book, as it were, on standard procedures. Particularly interesting is giving his creative-writing students assignments to read, write and play music to cookbook recipes. For a fuller view of the Pulitzer Prize winner, McCourt appears in an Aspen Writers’ Foundation Winter Words event Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Wheeler Opera House.
Racism, AIDS, the Holocaust and other heavy topics come up in the performance documentary “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic,” which shows at the Wheeler Opera House Thursday and Friday, Jan. 26-27. But despite the comparisons of Silverman to such socially charged comics as Lenny Bruce, don’t expect “Jesus is Magic” to inspire deep thinking on the issues of the day. Silverman uses such topics to unsettle the audience, not provoke it. And off-limits subjects dovetail perfectly with Silverman’s painted-on obliviousness: When she delivers a line like, “I was raped by a doctor – which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl,” the blend of cluelessness and political incorrectness make for great comedy. So don’t look for Lenny-like commentary in “Jesus Is Magic,” but do expect a load of laughs. Silverman may not be a provocateur, but she may be the funniest stand-up comic working today. And if “Jesus Is Magic” does it for you, check out her standout bits in another raunchy comic documentary, “The Aristocrats,” due out Tuesday, Jan. 24.
It’s not often that Aspen gets a music star touring through at the height of his career; usually, the big ones pass through on their way up or down. But we get Damian Marley at just the right time. The youngest son of Bob Marley, Damian made two appearances in Aspen in 2005, selling out a total of four shows at the Belly Up. This time, Marley is on a bigger stage – Wagner Park, site of ESPN’s X Games concerts – and he might need it. “Welcome to Jamrock,” Marley’s latest CD, charted at No. 7 upon its September release, the highest debut ever for a reggae album. Even before that, the title track made huge waves in Jamaica, stirring controversy by depicting Marley’s – and reggae’s – birthplace as a spot where tourists’ only contact with ordinary Jamaicans is to buy a bag of pot, while guns and ghettos dominate the other side of the fence. The wide-ranging album has been nominated for a pair of Grammy Awards – in the best reggae album category, of course, but also in the best urban/alternative performance category, an indication of how broad its appeal is. Marley plays downtown Aspen Saturday, Jan. 28.
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Normalcy will be few and far between this ski season, so Aspen’s Simi Hamilton’s traditional slow start brought a sense of calm to a world that’s mostly in chaos at the moment.