Aspen Santa Fe Ballet evolves classic genre

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s production of “Over Glow,” choreographed by Jorma Elo, moves to music by Mendelssohn and Beethoven.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s production of “Over Glow,” choreographed by Jorma Elo, moves to music by Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Photo provided

Though none of the show will be on pointe — with dancers on tiptoe — the three pieces Aspen Santa Fe Ballet will perform next week at the Eisenhower Auditorium should offer a fresh perspective on ballet fundamentals in contemporary dance.

For those with experience with neither genre, the pieces are designed to inspire and incite curiosity — and feeling, said Tom Mossbrucker, the dance company’s artistic director.

“I can tell you what we’re known for: innovative repertoire,” he said. “It’s current and forward-looking but it’s not avant-garde. It’s something that brings people in.”

In most contemporary companies, you don’t see on pointe dancing, he said.

“Still, the classical aesthetic is there,” he said. “A person who knows ballet will see that they are ballet dancers. The term ‘ballet’ is an evolving art form.”

From the company’s two home cities — Aspen, Colo., in the Rocky Mountains and Santa Fe, N.M., on the Southwestern plateau — the company works to shape both the cultural landscape of those progressive communities and become a pioneer in the dance field at large.

“I think we play a role in that evolution,” Mossbrucker said. “We’re excited about where dance is going and we contribute to it. We’ve created a lot of work in our 19 seasons and commissioned dances. We have contributed to the continuation of the art form by continuing new work rather than repeating work from ’70s and ’80s, which is valid, but it’s not what we do.”

Committing to curating new works while cultivating choreographic talent has resulted in a catalogue of adventurous repertoire, Mossbrucker said. The company’s leadership describes its aesthetic as a European sensibility glossed with American ebullience, helping the company epitomize the contemporary-classical genre.

“The choreographers all have a wide base of vocabulary with a heavy influence of ballet,” he said. “They tend to really rely on the ballet vocabulary as well as contemporary dance. Along those lines, we’re known for dancers who are noticeable and charismatic. It’s a small company, so we wanted to have dancers who can stand out.”

At Penn State, audience members can expect an eclectic mix with a trio of dances, all commissioned by the company. “Over Glow” will open the show with six dancers in what Mossbrucker calls a joyous and welcoming presentation.

“It’s a great introduction to the company,” he said. “The dancers look directly at the audience, and you immediately get a sense of who we are as a company.”

The story it’s meant to invoke is open to interpretation, he added.

“It is also important to remember that in contemporary ballet, there is very little narrative,” he said. “Most of the work is abstract. Thought things are inspired, it’s like going to a museum and looking at an abstract painting. Many times we don’t even know what the choreographer had in mind. That’s the beauty of it.”

The second piece, “Beautiful Mistake,” shows the dancers’ technical and partnering skills in a work that is more brooding than the first, Mossbrucker said.

With stunning costume designs (by Austin Scarlett, who appeared on the first season of “Project Runway”) and a “collage” of moods, Mossbrucker said the final dance, “Square None,” is among the company’s most popular.

“I think that was one of the pieces that Penn State saw that they specifically requested,” Mossbrucker said. “It’s also one of the pieces that everyone sort of falls in love with, whether they are ballet fans or have never seen it before.”