When the Aspen Ballet Company was just beginning its first season, Brooke Klinger, 19 at the time, moved here to become a ballet dancer. This year, when she dances the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker,” she will be celebrating her 10th season, as will the company, now known as the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.”I took dance and ballet lessons from the time I was 7 years old,” she said. But unlike most people who dance from an early age, Klinger made it into a professional company and has danced for a living for the last decade.”There’s a big difference between doing it as a teenager and now doing it in my late 20s,” she said. “I’m not trying to prove myself physically, I can relax, and enjoy it.” She is one of two dancers who have been here all 10 years, and she is engaged to the man, Seth Del Grasso, who has been in the company as long as she has. Dance, she said, is what she always wanted to do.”Performing is probably the best part of it,” she said. “Live performances are a rush. Dancers are trying to express a role or a feeling using the whole body where words don’t suffice.”
Ten years ago, artistic director Tom Mossbrucker and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty co-founded the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet out of the Aspen Ballet School. In that first year, “The Nutcracker” was the centerpiece, and plans for the organization were very rough at best. Today, when the ASFB kicks off its 10th anniversary year in Aspen, “The Nutcracker” is an entirely different performance, on the cutting edge of dance and theater. There are pyrotechnics, smoke, detailed sets and stunning costumes, as well as approximately 35 professional dancers and more than 110 area children dancing. “It’s very theatrical,” said Malaty. “We have folk dancers, we have Chinese dancers. There are dancers coming from all over the country.”This is the second year that this “Nutcracker” will be performed since it was redesigned. After a successful run of seven shows in Santa Fe last week, Mossbrucker and Malaty are excited to begin the Aspen season. “It’s in the middle of the run,” said Malaty. “The difference is that we have a whole different set of children in Aspen. They are kids we have been working with all year. They are all aspiring dancers.” Mossbrucker also commented on how impressed he is working with the younger generation. “A few kids have larger roles,” he said. “We really tailor the roles to the kids’ strengths. One of our students is dancing the role of the dragonfly, and that’s usually performed by a professional dancer.”Twenty years ago, Klinger was just like the hundred-or-so kids of today performing in “The Nutcracker.” She enjoys watching as the young dancers go from mouse and on to the doll part and remembers dancing those parts herself.
“I’ve been performing in ‘The Nutcracker’ since I was 7,” she said, “but this is an unusual version; it’s a little more magical. So people are in for a good surprise.”Two years ago, Malaty and Mossbrucker invited scenic designer Roger Lavoie to watch the old “Nutcracker,” which had a Western flair in fitting with the setting at the Wheeler Opera House. Lavoie immediately signed on to be the architect of the redesign. The makeover, costing $200,000, was financed largely by donations to the New Nutcracker Fund from Kelley and Mark Prunell, Bebe and David Schweppe, Sherry and Eddie Wachs, Carolyn Cox, Diane Disney Miller, Alpine Bank and Bulgari. The changes range from sound effects – guns, wind, mice screaming – to flying circus artists, special effects, Argentine tango dancing, and a reworking of Tchaikovsky’s score by ASFB dancer, musician and composer Sam Chittenden.”It’s sort of the opening of the holiday season,” said Malaty. “The Sunday afternoon show is already sold out.”Malaty and Mossbrucker hail from long dance careers at the Joffrey Ballet, and both feel that this is just the natural progression. “I enjoy putting on the productions, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching,” said Mossbrucker. “I feel very fulfilled of having done and watching other people do it. It’s really about passing things on.”
Malaty expressed similar sentiments about his job. “What I do now is very rewarding,” he said. “I can see myself through the dancers and students that we train. The end result is producing dance, even if you don’t do it yourself.”Klinger, as well, talked about how much she loves her job dancing. “It’s pretty rare to have a job that doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “I just love it.”The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet announced the schedule of their 10th anniversary season last month. In addition to “The Nutcracker” running Friday through Sunday, Dec. 16-18, with evening performances nightly and matinees Dec. 17-18, they are also hosting the “Land of the Sweets Tea Party,” with a kids’ fashion show, photo opportunities and cookies and cocoa, on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 4 p.m. at the Hotel Jerome. The 10th Anniversary Gala performance is taking place over the last weekend of January, featuring new works by choreographers Jorma Elo and Edwaard Liang, plus Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields.” There will also be appearances by Folklórico Mexicano, ASFB’s Latino-oriented youth outreach program, and the School of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. The Ailey II company returns at the beginning of March, after sold-out performances last year. The Los Angeles-based company, Diavalo, directed by Jacques Heim, makes its Aspen debut at the end of March. All performances are at the Aspen District Theatre. For tickets or further information, call 925-6098. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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