Aspen Santa Fe Ballet closes season Saturday with ‘Beautiful Decay’

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet's "Beautiful Decay"
Aspen Times file


What: ‘Beautiful Decay,’ presented by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Where: Aspen District Theatre

When: Saturday, Aug. 24, 8 p.m.

How much: $36-$94

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

When choreographer Nicolo Fonte debuted his evening-length ballet “Beautiful Decay” five years ago, he sent a video to his frequent collaborators here at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

He thought it might be a good fit for Aspen’s audiences, which have thrilled his emotive contemporary dance creations over the past two decades here.

When Aspen Santa Fe directors Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty decided they wanted to bring a full-length ballet to the local stage, Fonte’s meditation of age and time was an ideal fit.

“I feel honored and touched that they trust me and that they believe in the work,” Fonte said. “I think it has relevance everywhere, but I thought it would have real relevance here where there is a substantial segment of the community that is getting up there and we’re living in this ageist society.”

“Beautiful Decay” had its local debut in July. Its final Aspen performance of the season will be held Saturday, Aug. 24.

It is the first full-length ballet — other than the annual “Nutcracker” production — in the 23-year history of Aspen Santa Fe, which normally stages triple-bill programs.

Fonte worked for two months preparing the piece in the company’s Colorado Mountain College studio. The preparation was emotional as well as physical, as he pushed dancers to communicate the emotional depths of the work.

“When I say ‘Do it,’ I mean do it on a cellular level,” he said after a July rehearsal. “So that every cell in your body is committed to that one moment and the next moment, and the one after that. That’s a long, grueling process.”

The result, he hopes, is a direct emotional connection with the audience. He wants viewers to see themselves in the performers, young and old.

“You’re not going to see yourself in them hoisting their legs in the air and doing the incredible things they can do,” he explained. “But you might be able to transfer your emotions to them — you might be able to recognize you’ve felt that or experienced that.”

“Beautiful Decay” is the 10th ballet that Fonte has staged with the company, including eight original creations, over the past 19 years. His aesthetic has helped define Aspen Santa Fe, while the company also has pushed Fonte to some of the definitive creations of his globally acclaimed career.

The piece, which debuted in 2013 at BalletX in Philadelphia, is a two-act exploration of the cycle of life, the inevitability of aging, and time’s whittling away of youth. It calls for two older dancers — in this production they are longtime Aspen dance instructor Hilary Cartwright and Oregon dancer Gregg Bielemier, both in their 70s — to perform alongside the younger company cast, providing contrast between the youthful vigor of professional dancers in their prime and a pair decades older.

Watching the ballet with audiences, Fonte has found that as soon as the older dancers enter, all eyes focus on them. We’re used to watching perfect young dancers soar across a stage, but the 70-something dancer doing so is something rare.

“There is something beautiful in experiencing 40 years of experience onstage, where physical prowess morphs into something else and becomes much more of an emotional, reflective way of moving,” Fonte said.

His original inspiration for the concept was inspired by a 3-D photo exhibition in Portland, Oregon, which brought viewers inside of nearly dead flowers.

“It touched me in my core,” Fonte said. “Something about it was so powerful, and the element of 3-D you were inside the flower petals. These decaying flowers retained so much of their flowerness. It was this undeniable identity screaming at me: ‘I was once a flower!’ My heart was racing. And that’s really where the idea came from.”