Dancer Sam Chittenden returned from Russia on Tuesday, where the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet made its debut on Theatre Square last week. This Saturday, he’ll take his final bow, both as a dancer and a senior member of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet troupe.
After 15 years with the company, he’s seen a lot of stages, countries and pas de bourree, but the most important part of the decade and a half, he says, was seeing ASFB evolve.
“By being able to have been there since the beginning, I’ve been able to grow along with the program,” he says. “I have a sense of ownership with the company and contributing to where they we’re headed.”
ASFB was founded in 1997, and Chittenden came on board one year later at age 21. He danced for the University of Utah, previously, and back home in Minnesota where he, and his girlfriend, Katie Dehler, were raised. She is also a 13-year veteran of the ASFB, and the two met while going to school in Utah.
One of his fondest memories is returning to Minnesota to perform in their home state, which served as a “homecoming of sorts,” he says. International travel also tops the list, with performances in Italy, Greece and Brazil. And, he adds, that New York is always fun.
“There’s been an upward progression to more prestigious destinations around the world,” says the 36-year old, as the company has developed during his tenure.
Founder Bebe Schweppe originally set out to create a ballet school in the mountains, and under the leadership of Tom Mossbrucker, artistic director, and Jean-Philippe Malaty, executive director, it’s transformed into a contemporary dance program with an innovative style. With an emphasis on creative choreography, it’s recognized as an incubator program, with original compositions from people like Niccolo Fonte and Jormo Elo, whose works have gone on to be performed by other troupes around the world.
“By being there through the opening of the company, it’s grown to more touring with more prestigious gigs, and because you’re contributing to the creation process in terms of the movement and the ballet, there’s a certain life of its own,” says Chittenden.
But beyond that pride, he says additionally it’s been amazing to work with a great team, who is really more like family at this point.
“It crazy, because it doesn’t make it feel like work,” he says. “I’m getting to experience these highs and lows and frustrations with my best friends, and that’s been a highlight.”
Chittenden and Dehler recently bought a home in Carbondale, and the couple plans to stay in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’s not completely sure what’s next, but it will involve his “entrepreneurial spirit,” the freelance graphic design business he’s created and more rock climbing, which is another passion of his.
“The valley is awesome, and has a lot of things that I love to do as well,” he says. “I’m’ hoping to have a different time allocated to different things, and just excited about figuring that out.”
This Saturday, ASFB’s encore performance of its February program features Jiri Kylián’s “Return to a Strange Land,” Alejandro Cerrudo’s new ballet “Last,” and Trey McIntyre’s seductive “Like a Samba.” Chittenden dances in all three.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Saturday, March 16
Aspen District Theatre