Aspen Santa Fe Ballet celebrates 20 years
In 1996, Jean-Philippe Malaty and Tom Mossbrucker created a ballet company in Aspen, Colorado, at the invitation of Bebe Schweppe, who ran a ballet school.
That company expanded and became the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and will perform at the Eccles Center on Saturday.
This isn’t the first time the company has performed in Park City, nor will it be the last, Malaty said during an interview with The Park Record.
"We love coming back, especially because at the very beginning Park City brought the company in," Malaty said. "We kind of grew up there. So it’s meaningful for us to come back to a familiar place that has supported what we do all of these years."
Saturday night’s performance will feature three new works — Alejandro Cerrudo’s "Silent Ghost," Cayetano Soto’s "Huma Rojo" and Jorma Elo’s "1st Flash."
"We are very forward thinking and don’t tend to look back at the past," Malaty explained. "Even on an anniversary season, many companies will go back and do a retrospective of the works that have been done and do a ‘best of’ show. But we decided not to do that. Instead we commissioned new works."
Two of the works — "Silent Ghost" and "Huma Rojo" — were created for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and "1st Flash" is an acquired work that was done in 2003 for the Nederlands Dans Theatre in Holland.
"We have been performing these part of our season, but we haven’t been back to Park City for a while, so they will be brand new for the Park City audience for sure," Malaty said.
The works are diverse in style and are by very different choreographers. Jorma Elo is from Finland and the other two are from Spain, according to Malaty.
The pieces were selected because they showcase the dancers and further the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s philosophy.
"We are a contemporary ballet company and all of our dancers are classically trained," Malaty explained. "What we do as a company is commission works by living and contemporary choreographers.
Cerrudo and Soto are both in their 30s and represent the new generation of ballet choreographers, Malaty said.
"Their works are inspired by classical ballet, but they are really a fusion of modern dance and ballet, hip-hop. You will see so many different influences because those choreographers are so young," he said. "The goal for us is to move forward. We’re not interested in being a museum ballet company, you know? Many companies preserve the work that has been done for the past 100 years."
Malaty knows preserving the classic works is important, but it’s not something the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet does.
"Our interest is looking forward and contributing to the art form and keeping it relevant for the audience of today," he said.
"Silent Ghost," an abstract work, premiered last summer and it was the second work Cerrudo set on the company.
"People will see a lot of different things in it and it’s not unusual for us to see grown men come talk with us during intermission to tell us this work made them cry," Malaty said.
"Huma Rojo" is the company’s most recent work.
"We premiered it a couple of weeks ago in Aspen," Malaty said. "Cayetano has done already four ballets for us. So, the dancers know him and he knows the dancers."
While the current choreographic trend seems to lean toward the serious, "Huma Rojo" turns the tables.
"Lately, choreographers have been creating serious and dark moods with the movement, lighting and costumes," Malaty said. "This one is different."
When Malaty and his staff talked with Soto about creating a new work he told him there was enough dark pieces out there.
"We said, ‘This is our 20th anniversary and we need a closer that is uplifting, so you better deliver,’" Malaty said with a laugh. "And he really did. The ballet is blockbuster and I know we’ll do this everywhere for many years.
"It features Latin music and is nothing that you will expect from a ballet company," he said.
The company acquired Jorma Elo’s "1st Flash" after Malaty saw a performance.
"Jorma is a longtime collaborator with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and as I said before he didn’t do this piece for us," Malaty said. "But we liked it so much that we purchased it."
This work features more of the classical technique than "Silent Ghost" and "Huma Rojo."
"Jorma is a little older than the other two choreographers, and you can see the influence he has had on them in the other two pieces," Malaty said.
This program is what a 20th anniversary production should be and Malaty is thankful, if not a bit astounded, that the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is that old.
"We feel the 20 years to be sure," he said with another laugh. "It’s a very different sense than what we were at the beginning, because we were very much a mom-and-pop operation and we were just happy to put on a show."
That meant there was no pressure, but it was a time for "firsts," Malaty said.
"We had only been to Park City once and we did our first time in New York and at Jacob’s Pillow," he said. "It was exciting and the overhead was much smaller."
The company now features 12 dancers, an administration and bases in two different states.
"We created an outreach program and took over a flamenco company," Malaty said. "We do feel the pressure of discovering new talents because we have been the springboard of so many young choreographers in their career. We discovered and nurtured them. So, now many companies are looking at us and we have a reputation to maintain.
"We never thought we’d make it 20 years," he said. "We always worried if we would still be in business the following year. Now, we know we ‘re not going anywhere. So we’d better deliver."
The Park City Institute will welcome back the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $75 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org .
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