Ballet company mixes classical and modern dance
By Sarah Frostenson, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The contemporary dance company Aspen Santa Fe Ballet will take center stage on Thursday and Friday night at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, showcasing their eclectic blend of classical ballet infused with modern dance as part of this year’s Summer Arts Festival, “eMotion.”
ASFB’s founder, Bebe Schweppe, wanted an ensemble that showcased the native talent of Aspen, Colo., to give the people in the Aspen Valley a dance troupe they could call their own, she said. Schweppe recruited dancers Jean-Philippe Malaty, now executive director of ASFB, and Tom Mossbrucker, now the company’s artistic director, to help her form the group in 1996. In 2000, the company expanded to a second home in Santa Fe, N.M.
“What really motivated us was to create something from a blank slate,” Malaty said. “Most major cities have a major ballet company and positions only open through people being fired or transferred. So when [Schweppe] approached [Mossbrucker] and I, we were excited by the idea of starting a company from scratch. We had no background to work from so we could run our dance company differently.”
True to the founders’ vision of a dance troupe unconstrained by the limits of one dance form, ASFB is an unconventional ballet company with many contemporary influences. Malaty, Mossbrucker and all 11 of ASFB’s dancers are classically trained, yet the group commissions modern dance choreographers to compose pieces to a variety of music.
ASFB takes advantage of their eclectic repertoire by showcasing as diverse a program as possible in all of their performances, according to Malaty. While the company sacrifices coherence and unity by combining pieces from various choreographers, audiences are able to experience a rich diversity of talent, he said.
For their performances at the Hop, for instance, ASFB will perform both “Slingerland Pas De Deux,” which was composed by American choreographer, William Forsythe, and “Fugaz,” a piece by Spanish choreographer, Cayetano Soto.
“We are committed to commissioning new work by choreographers, celebrating leading choreographers in the field and showcasing where dance is going, the future of dance, not where it has been,” Malaty said. “We are not interested in presenting what has been done for hundreds of years.”
ASFB will also perform “Sue’s Leg,” a piece by the esteemed Twyla Tharp, that sets 1930s dance-hall choreography to music by Fats Waller. The company will close their performances at the Hop with “1st Flash” by the Finnish-born choreographer, Jorma Elo.
A traveling dance troupe, ASFB performs more than 85 times in a season. Each time, the group strives to present its audiences with a style very different from other dance companies, according to Malaty.
“We try very hard to have a theme, as it is more entertaining for the audience if there is different styles and types of music presented — it creates a rich diversity,” Malaty said.
Earning accolades and acclaim over the years for its fresh perspective on modern dance, ASFB has become a well-established dance company, whose work has been featured at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. The group has also performed at the Joyce Theater in New York City, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and a variety of international venues.
ASFB is also committed to dance training and education, operating two dance schools — one in Aspen and another in Santa Fe. While the group has created a name for itself by celebrating dance innovation, ASFB remains conscious of its roots, according to Malaty. The ensemble maintains a strong outreach program in Santa Fe, teaching Mexican folkloric dance to low-income school children in the area.
Malaty said he was excited to perform at Dartmouth for the first time and hopes to share his “life passion” with members of the Dartmouth community. Members of ASFB will teach a master class at the Hop on Saturday, in addition to their performances.
“I started my life as a dancer and now I run a dance company,” Malaty said. “I can’t imagine my life without dance — it is something I find extremely inspiring and rewarding.”
The performance is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces Dance Initiative.
ASFB performs in the Moore Theater at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 9, and at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 10.