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Traveling ballet company stops by Newman Center

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers in Jorma Elo’s “Red Sweet,” part of the company’s Feb. 19 show at the Newman Center. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

The name of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, as it turns out, is a bit of a misnomer. Though the company has headquarters in both cities, and most of its dances are created in Aspen, the bulk of its performances are on the road. This season alone, the 10-person dance company will travel to New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Israel, the Virgin Islands, Chicago and Virginia’s famed Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

“People say, ‘Are you performing more in Aspen or more in Santa Fe,’ and the answer is that we’re performing everywhere else,” says executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty. “Our home bases are small villages, really — Aspen has 6,000 people and Santa Fe has around 75,000. They’re very small communities and very seasonal. Even if we had the best ballet company in the world, in Aspen in May there’s nobody here to come see it. So out of necessity really, we became a touring company. And thank God it’s been successful.”

One reason for that success, Malaty believes, is the company’s nontraditional approach to repertoire. Rather than performing the work of a namesake choreographer or adhering to the legacy of New York Ballet co-founder George Balanchine, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet commissions dances from a variety of choreographers from around the globe. When it appears at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts for a sold-out show on Feb. 19, the company will perform work by Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto (“Uneven”), Joffrey Ballet-trained Nicolo Fonte (“In Hidden Seconds”) and Finnish-born dancemaker Jorma Elo (“Red Sweet”). It’s a mix that keeps the dancers on their toes.

“What makes us different is that our artistic director, Tom Mossbrucker, does not choreograph for the company at all,” Malaty says. “We only invite guest choreographers, which is a little bit different from the norm, especially in America and especially with more contemporary modern dance. For instance, you have the Martha Graham dance company — they do the work of Martha Graham and that’s it. Or you have the Paul Taylor dance company and they do the work of Paul Taylor. Our director being more of a curator, rather than a choreographer, we don’t have that monopoly. The company can look very different from one season to the next depending on who we have invited to curate.”

And Aspen Santa Fe prides itself on its eye for new talent. It was the first American company to commission work from Fonte and the second to commission work from Elo, who has since become a sought-after choreographer who has created dances for New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

“After Boston Ballet we were the second company to commission a work by him, and that was about eight years ago,” Malaty says. “He’s since done three pieces for us. We were fortunate to develop a relationship with those people when they were really up and coming, and we hope to be able to do the same thing with Cayetano.”

Indeed, Soto’s “Uneven” — which features a live cello player on stage with the dancers — is a commissioned piece that premiered last summer in Aspen and already is becoming a signature dance for the company.

“It’s a piece that’s going to be performed many, many places,” Malaty says. “It’s a huge success.”

Also successful is Aspen Santa Fe’s relationship with DU and the Newman Center. Malaty says the company performed in several Denver venues early in its existence, but it wasn’t until the Newman Center was built in 2002 that the group truly found a home in the Mile High City.

“I love working with them, they do great stuff, the company just continues to grow the scale of what they do and their reputation nationwide and internationally,” says Newman Center Executive Director Steve Seifert. “It’s always a joy to have them here and our audience just loves them. It’s an easy choice.”

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 in DU’s Newman Center, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. A free “Behind the Curtain” lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are sold out; visit for more information.

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