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New steps for Aspen ballet

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
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ASPEN About a dozen years ago, a fledgling local dance company, known then as the Aspen Ballet Company, was atwitter with the prospect of helping create something new. The company, founded in 1995, was preparing the world premiere of choreographer Dwight Rhodens Ear Candy, the first piece commissioned for the Aspen company.Debuting new works has become somewhat old hat for the organization, now known as the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB). Jean-Philippe Malaty, the companys executive director, has lost track of the number of works that have been commissioned for the ASFB; his best estimate is 20. But the fact is that preparing and performing new works never becomes routine. For a ballet company, the bulk of the repertoire can consist of old pieces that have a predictable effect on the audience and on the dancers. New works allows a company to work with the choreographer, and to enter another level of the creative realm.The risk-taking is ten-fold, said Malaty, who, like ASFB artistic director Tom Mossbrucker, has been with the company from the beginning. If you buy a ballet thats been done before, you know what youre getting. With a new dance, its a shot in the dark except for the trust you put in the choreographer, and his or her abilities. You can only predict the character of the choreographer, but you dont know the piece youre going to get. Theres a lot of discussion involved its music, lighting, sets.Aspen Santa Fe Ballet kicks off its Summer Dance Series formerly known as the Aspen Dance Festival with appearances by the resident company Thursday and Saturday, July 19, at the Aspen District Theatre. And while the company has grown accustomed to premiering new works, this represents another new step. The program includes two new pieces commissioned for the ASFB: the multi-media piece Quartet, by Nicolo Fonte, who has created five previous works for the company; and Red Sweet, by Jorma Elo, who is making his third work for the ASFB. Add to those a third fresh piece: Itzik Galilis Chameleon, which has been restaged for his American premiere by the ASFB. The program is rounded out by a local favorite, Moses Pendletons Noir Blanc, which, as it happens, was also created for the company, though in 2002. (The entire program was performed last weekend in Santa Fe, the companys second hometown.)Quartet marked a series of firsts for the ASFB. It was the first piece choreographed exclusively for the companys male dancers. And it is the first piece created for the company with a video component. Fonte collaborated with New York video artist Adam Larsen to make a piece that utilizes a pair of small video screens. Quartet is set to music by the rock group Nine Inch Nails.Elos Red Sweet, for eight dancers, is set to music of Vivaldi. Malaty said the piece contrasts contemporary dance techniques, like break-dancing, with the music, composed several hundred years ago. Galilis Chameleon, is set to piano music by John Cage but the composers early, Romantic-inspired work, rather than his later avant-garde output emphasizes the facial expressions of the five dancers, all female.Thats what we do. Thats why we have the ballet company, to move the art form forward, said Malaty, of performing new dances. We dont want to be like a museum that just collects. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is at the forefront of that in America. There are few companies in America that premiere four, five ballets in a year. The tendency is to do things that are safe especially in this economy. People are bringing back the blockbusters, the certainties. Were taking chances but thats what we want to do.In some quarters, however, the ASFB can seem like traditionalists. Earlier this month, the company made its first appearance at the American Dance Festival, in Durham, N.C. Though the event is the second oldest dance festival in the U.S., dating back to 1933, when it was founded by Martha Graham, it retains a cutting-edge aesthetic and is devoted to contemporary forms. Malaty says the ASFB was the first company with the word ballet in its name ever invited.Still, the company seemed to fit in well, performing two works by choreographer Twyla Tharp, who hand-picked the ASFB to represent her at the festival. Comparing the ASFB favorably to the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the North Carolina newspaper The News & Observer congratulated the company for joining the American Dance Festival elite.stewart@aspentimes.com


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