The final step
Brooke Klinger makes the observation that professional dancers are not, as a rule, particularly loyal to their companies. They tend to dance with an eye toward the next step up the career ladder. “People don’t tend to invest themselves. It’s a clock-in, clock-out job,” she said.Klinger speaks, in a way, from personal experience. When she joined the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company, she was expecting a brief stay before moving on to something bigger and better. “I thought it would be a temporary arrangement,” she confessed.That was a long time ago, however – 11 years, to be exact. And the main reason that Klinger anticipated a short stay in Aspen was because she didn’t foresee much of a future for the company itself. In 1996, Klinger, 19 at the time and with one year of college-level ballet study at the University of Utah under her belt, became one of the founding members of what was then the Aspen Ballet Company. Klinger was invited to perform in “The Nutcracker” in the first year that the organization made its transition from a school, primarily for children, to a professional company. Knowing little about the organization, the people behind it, and the community it was a part of, Klinger thought she would clock in and out of Aspen in a hurry.
“I thought after ‘The ‘Nutcracker,’ it would disband,” she said. “It didn’t seem to have anything to hold it together. There’s so little funding for the arts – but I didn’t know then what Aspen had to offer, and the drive that Tom and J.P. [Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s founding and current co-directors] had.”Klinger now looks back at a history that brings her to literal tears. She has stayed part of a company that in May performed for a crowd of some 2,400 at Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Ore. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has appeared at the Jacobs Pillow Festival in Massachusetts, the country’s most prestigious dance festival, and several times at the Joyce Theater, New York City’s premiere spot for dance. The company has traveled to France and Canada and made stops in Hawaii, Dallas, Palm Beach, Las Vegas and St. Louis, garnering positive reviews in many of those locations. Klinger also was there for the early, less glamorous times, when the troupe played to tiny crowds in Colorado towns like Walsenburg where the dancers themselves hung posters.Klinger did more than dance in her first year in Aspen. She started dating a fellow company member, Seth DelGrasso. She and the “handsome and charming” DelGrasso became an item, danced together in the title roles of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1999, and were married last summer.This stage of Klinger’s life comes to an end this week. She has announced her retirement from Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to pursue not another dance position, but another avenue of life. Klinger and DelGrasso are looking to start a family, and Klinger is also planning to take a few courses at Colorado Mountain College to lay the foundation for a move into nursing. The couple is staying in Aspen; DelGrasso will carry on with the local company.”I never planned to stay in dancing after I was 30,” said Klinger, who hit that mark this past year. “Dancing is a selfish profession. It’s narcissistic – always looking at your own body, thinking, ‘How am I doing?’ I’m looking forward to concentrating on somebody else for a while.”She exits with a splash. On Monday, July 16, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet – which used the Wheeler Opera House in its early years and now has its local base at the Aspen District Theatre – will makes its debut performance on Aspen’s biggest stage, the one under the Benedict Music Tent. The performance is a collaboration with the Aspen Music Festival and features the rare treat of live accompaniment by a Music Festival ensemble. Klinger will perform in both dance pieces: Nicolo Fonte’s “Left Unsaid,” with music by J.S. Bach, and Jorma Elo’s “Pointoff,” with music by Bach/Busoni. Also on the program are two musical numbers: Grieg’s “Norwegian Dances” and Sarasate’s “Navarra.”
Both of the dance pieces in Monday’s program were commissioned by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet – Fonte’s in 2003, and Elo’s last year. It is an appropriate sendoff for Klinger, for it was when the company first commissioned a new work – Dwight Rhoden’s “Ear Candy” – that she realized something stable was being created in Aspen.”In that first season, one of the first choreographers who came here was Rhoden,” said Klinger, who was born in Hawaii, raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and settled on being a dancer around the age of 4. “He’s really well-known, and that made me think that we’re not just playing at making something up in the studio. There was a vision here, something I could follow.”What became more important was the way people followed that vision. Mossbrucker and Malaty hired young dancers with little experience, including several who had been trained at the Aspen Ballet School. Klinger saw enthusiasm in the fledgling organization.”Everybody was so hungry to work hard,” she said, adding that she chose a professional job in Aspen over studying at the Berlin Opera Ballet School. “It wasn’t for the fame; it wasn’t Carnegie Hall. But performing at the Wheeler was just as good, and that’s the kind of character I fell in love with.”The company’s directors say Klinger’s longevity has been instrumental in preserving that early spirit. “She was part of building the soul of the company,” said Malaty. “She’s one of the few dancers we have left who’s been to Walsenburg and Alamosa, and who had to do mailings and postering around town. She has that memory, that experience, and she brings it to the company now.”
Klinger also helped shape a company that was not built on the traditional model. Several of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet members came to ballet not as dancers, but as athletes. Sam Chittenden, a company dancer who joined in the organization’s second year, crossed over from rock-climbing. Others came to dance relatively late in life. That has given the company two of its trademarks – that while classical ballet is its foundation, it branches off into less traditional forms. And it has a noticeable element of athleticism.”I think that’s something people like to watch,” said Klinger. “It’s not your average, dainty waif in a tutu. It’s dance that’s infused in every fiber of your body.”The organization, too, tends to get inside people – dancers, staff members, supporters. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has earned considerable support from not one, but two communities; in 2000, a second base was established in Santa Fe. Last summer, the Next Dance campaign was announced with the goal of raising $10 million for an endowment; it was also announced that three separate $1 million gifts had already been made toward the goal. DelGrasso and Klinger – like directors Mossbrucker and Malaty – are still around from the first year, and Chittenden from the second. Another original member, Patrick Thompson, retired in 2005, after nearly a decade in the company.”Board members, directors – they invest everything they have in it, heart and soul,” said Klinger, who calls the first appearance at the Joyce Theater the highlight of her career. “It’s been fulfilling to see people stay in this environment that has been as nurturing for them as it’s been for me. For the most part, people stick around a long time.”And I feel like it’s something I helped create.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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