Jacob's Pillow: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on a mission


BECKET -- Tom Mossbrucker, who has brought his Aspen Santa Fe Ballet back to close the season at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, is as dedicated to dance as just about anyone.

Mossbrucker was one of the Joffrey Ballet's most celebrated dancers, performing in more than 70 ballets in a 20-year career before joining Aspen Santa Fe Ballet as its artistic director.

That two-decade career included the period when the Joffrey was attempting to establish joint company homes in New York and Los Angeles, according to Mossbrucker.

"It was an amazing time," he said in a telephone conversation from Santa Fe one afternoon last week.

"When we started the company here -- Jon Philippe was involved -- we tried to make Joffrey a kind of model of what we wanted to do," he recalled, noting that the company originally began in 1996 through the efforts of founder, Bebe Schweppe, who invited Mossbrucker and Jean Philippe Malaty, who became its executive director, to develop a small professional ballet company in Aspen, Colo.

Then Mossbrucker and Malaty, proceeding with their Joffrey-inspired plan, negotiated an agreement with a presenting organization in Santa Fe, N.M., and now call both cities home.

The two cities are similar in some respects, both high in altitude -- Aspen is 7,900 feet above sea level, Santa Fe, 7,199 -- which otherwise would have a profound effect on physically active dancers moving from home to home. And both, as Mossbrucker points out, attract many tourists.

"They are so different in other ways," he said. "The larger audience is in Santa Fe; there is a great interest in the arts, and in Aspen (where all the dancers live) there is a great love of nature and outdoor athleticism -- it seemed like a good fit.

"We have a big presence in each community,"

Each city has a ballet school, according to Mossbrucker, and in Santa Fe, Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe, another dance company, now is under the company's umbrella. "We've known Juan for many, many years as an artist, and we decided to share our knowledge and management structure," Mossbrucker explained.

The company's 11 dancers -- 6 men, 5 women -- perform year-round in both cities, including "Nutcrackers" -- four performances in each city -- around the holidays: "The company dancers do the adult roles, and 15 professional dancers are engaged to supplement the company dancers, along with 80 children from each community," Mossbrucker said.

Mossbrucker said he was honored when Ella Baff, the Pillow's artistic director, invited Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to close the Pillow's 2014 season -- recent season finales have been performed by the Martha Graham Dance Company and Mossbrucker's alma mater, the Joffrey.

In accepting the invitation, Mossbrucker said he received a certain mission from Baff: "She asked us if we would do something uplifting, celebratory, to close the season on a high note. When we put together this program, we worked with Ella.

" ‘Over Glow' by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo is very welcoming, almost an introduction to the company," said Mossbrucker. "The dancers come out, and say in effect, ‘Welcome to the Pillow.'

"The piece has vibrant color, really upbeat music, classically based [Mendelssohn and Beethoven], with hip-hop infused in it, with quirky movement, typically abstract.

"There is a little bit of narrative; in the beautiful long second movement, which is very lyrical, someone dies, which is very unexpected, but everything comes back to life."

The maker of "Beautiful Mistake," Cayetano Soto, is a Spaniard.

"This one is in complete contrast to ‘Over Glow,' " said Mossbrucker. " ‘Beautiful Mistake' is dark, very serious. The movement is aggressive, extremely physical. It shows off not only the technical prowess of the dancers, it is very complex, with great articulation.

"The other part is the partnering -- it's like nothing I've ever seen before, hard-edged and aggressive. It's a real juxtaposition -- the music is in direct contrast to the dance, soft and dreamy," he said, describing the contrasting score of electronic music by Ólafur Amaids and a classical composition of Charles Wilson.

"I think it's nice to sandwich that piece in the center of the two others," said Mossbrucker. "It makes the contrast even sharper."

That third work, "The
Heart(s)pace," was created this year by Nicolo Fonte.

"Although we don't have a resident choreographer, Nicolo is part of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet," said Mossbrucker. "This is his ninth work for us.

"He's American, but he danced for many years in Spain -- he's really offering a real European aesthetic, as the other two choreographers do."

Mossbrucker said he approached Fonte, explaining that he'd like to create a ballet. "But we don't want you to create the same dark, somber dances filled with angst like the modern choreographers do -- it's becoming a bit chiché," he told Fonte.

Mossbrucker said when he asked for something exuberant, with a lot of life, and his particular color, he said the choreographer at first was almost hesitant.

"We asked him to focus, and he had the idea to focus on the newer members of the company, and took it to a point he never had before."

In examining the idea of exuberance and brightness, Mossbrucker said Fonte appeared to take it on as a challenge.

"It's abstract, [with the dancers] very much showing human connections to each other. It's also about helping each other, images of people caring for each other -- someone drops to the floor, and everyone rushes around to help.

"They look at each other, make eye contact -- and believe it or not, these are things you do not see in a lot of contemporary work."

Mossbrucker said all three works are commissioned. "That feels special to us. It also speaks to our commitment to new work. We always look forward. Since the recession, we've had an obsession for creating new works, and we're going to keep creating.

"We've had 30 new ballets, and we're finishing our 18th season now."

On stage

Who: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

When: Through Sunday. Eves.: 8 tonight, Sat. Mats.: 2 Sat., Sun.

Where: Jacob’s Pillow, Ted Shawn Theatre, 358 George Carter Road, Becket

Tickets: $45-$75 How: (413) 243-0745; jacobspillow.org


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