DanceAspen created by and for dancers |

DanceAspen created by and for dancers

Sammy Altenau and Blake Krapels.
Courtesy DanceAspen

DanceAspen has created big buzz in a short time.

The shuttering of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet during the pandemic left Laurel Jenny Winton and fellow dancers Kaya Wolsey, Anthony Tiedeman, Matthew Gilmore, and Katherine Bolanos (now retired) out of work and with a serious dilemma: Do they leave a community they love and had built their lives around, or leave their dance careers behind? 

Sammy Altenau & Blake Krapels enjoy the creative freedom of DanceAspen.
Courtesy DanceAspen

“I decided to create a third option, which was building a brand-new organization alongside my fellow coworkers, and that became DanceAspen.” Wilton said. “And, it’s been an incredible journey. We’ve been able to build something great out of a tragedy.”

And so, the new company was founded in 2021.

Winton attended the San Francisco Ballet School and danced for the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago for five years. She subsequently went to New York to pursue Broadway and film after landing the role of Penny in Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage and co-starred on the CBS television series BULL before landing a spot at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet five years ago.

Fellow dancer Kaya Wolsey also arrived at Aspen Santa Fe with an impressive resume. She grew up in Utah and received early ballet training from Wasatch Ballet Conservatory under the direction of her mother, Allison Wolsey. After receiving her baschelor’s in fine arts from University of Utah, she danced for Ballet San Antonio in Texas and SALT Contemporary Dance before relocating to Aspen to join Aspen Sant Fe Ballet.

Now the company manager and marketing maven for DanceAspen, she believes what sets them apart from other organizations she has belonged to is their open and collaborative nature.

“We are all working together to build the company. There is not just one artistic director making all the decisions. We have a few of the dancers choreographing. We’re all responsible for how the studio runs and functions daily. It gives all of us ownership of propelling the company forward and making art accessible to the community and, hopefully, the world, eventually,” Wolsey said.

Sammy Altenau, Matthew Gilmore, and Blake Krapels collaborate. Krapels meant to stay only two months in Aspen but found he loved creating with the other dancers in DanceAspen.
Courtesy DanceAspen

This culture of collaboration and respect is also drawing in new talented dancers to the valley and organization, like New Jerseyan Blake Krapels, who has been dancing since he was 3. He has a fine arts bachelor’s degree in dance from The Julliard School and has performed with many companies, most recently Philadelphia’s BalletX.

He came to DanceAspen as a guest dancer via friend, former colleague, and current DanceAspen member Anthony Tiedeman. He meant to stay only two months, but those plans have changed.

“I just had to stay and keep creating with these wonderful people,” he said. “There’s something so lovely about having nature as your background. It’s like truly healing to be walking and have the mountains surround you and for our work as artists. The community has been so supportive; It feels like a big hug from the Aspen community.”

Sammy Altenau and Blake Krapels rehearsing for the DanceAspen winter pop-up.
Courtesy DanceAspen

In just a year and a half, DanceAspen has procured a residency at The Wheeler Opera House, where they premiered their work last spring and set up partnerships with Aspen Art Museum and The Hotel Jerome. The company currently consists of six dancers, and Winton is hoping to bump that up that to eight in 2023 through fundraising, the support of the community, and sponsors.

Next up for DanceAspen is a winter pop-up of several 20-minute informal performances around town, like the rooftop at Aspen Art Museum on Dec. 16 and the Wheeler Room at The Hotel Jerome on Dec. 17, employing choreography styles from ballet to contemporary.

“This pop-up series is entirely produced by the dancers themselves. So, they’re creating the work in the studio with one another, and I’m finding that the dancers are discovering and developing new skills they may not have had a chance to do in bigger companies,” said Winton. “You know, we’re in these early stages, so we really have the freedom to paint an entirely new picture of what a dance company looks like.”

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