Aspen Santa Fe Ballet opens its summer season Saturday night with two world-premiere compositions from celebrated young choreographers.
The 12-dancer company, with homes both here and in Santa Fe, N.M., has helped launch the careers of Norbert De La Cruz, 26, and Cayetano Soto, 38, who both return with new work this weekend. Saturday’s program is rounded out by frequent Aspen Santa Fe choreographer Trey McIntyre’s signature piece, “Like a Samba.”
Over its 16 years, Aspen Santa Fe has carved out a reputation for cutting-edge dance, and increasingly for introducing progressive new choreographers to the ballet world.
“We’ve become an incubator for young choreographers,” said Aspen Santa Fe executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty.
That effort has fueled the careers of De La Cruz and Soto, whose compositions from Aspen have gained world renown. De La Cruz last year won the prestigious Princess Grace Foundation Award for Choreography, for “Square None,” which premiered here. Soto’s “Uneven,” an expressive piece featuring a cellist on stage, premiered here in 2010. It was nominated for Russia’s Golden Mask Award after it was performed there and it is being staged this weekend by the Sao Paulo Dance Company in Brazil.
“It’s hard to believe these were developed in our basement at [Colorado Mountain College],” said Malaty.
Soto has been in that modest studio off of Highway 82 over the last two weeks, putting the final touches on his new piece, “Beautiful Mistake,” with Aspen Santa Fe’s dancers. It’s his fourth time working with the local company, which the Spanish-born choreographer praises highly.
“This is one of the greatest companies in the world,” Soto said.
His star has risen since “Uneven” and made him an in-demand artist. Over the last year, his work has been produced nine times on three continents, with five companies commissioning him to create new ballets. Returning to Aspen now brings added pressure, he admits.
“When you do successful work like [‘Uneven’] and then you come back, you have more responsibility and expectations on you,” he said.
Soto credited Malaty and Aspen Santa Fe artistic director Tom Mussbrucker with tilling fertile ground for emerging choreographers.
“I never hear a ‘no’ from them,” he said. “The word ‘no’ doesn’t exist here, and this is one thing that makes it so special. They are confident and everyone believes in our creation.”
Aspen Santa Fe’s team of dancers — known for their athleticism and versatility in blending classical and modern styles — enrich the creative process, he said.
“Every company has something unique,” Soto said. “What I see here, each one of them is like one of a kind, and this is beautiful. … The dancers are exceptional artists.”
Some of the world’s best-known dance forums have begun to take note of Aspen Santa Fe, with their tours stopping in Moscow, Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts, and New York’s Joyce Theatre.
The prestigious Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York made waves earlier this year, when it announced it was shortening the long-standing three-week summer residency of the New York City Ballet there to one week. Saratoga is replacing it, for the last week of July, with Aspen Santa Fe.
“It’s a great honor to be part of this changing of the guard,” said Malaty.
Saturday’s program will be reprised on July 18 and 20, before the company heads to Saratoga.
It is also hosting four programs by visiting companies this summer. Next weekend Aspen Santa Fe hosts the popular dance company Momix, which theatrically combines dance, illusion, and costume. Aug. 2 and 3 brings Complexions Contemporary Ballet of New York to Aspen, followed on Aug. 8 by Paul Taylor Dance Company.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Latin dance-based Folklórico program for children launches a new cultural exchange this summer, performing with the Harlem-based African dance ensemble Batoto Yetu on Aug. 10.
The company closes its summer season on Aug. 24 with reprisals of Jorma Elo’s “Over Glow,” Nicolo Fonte’s “Where We Left Off” and Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Last.” All three have been signature pieces for company dancer Katie Dehler, who will retire after that show.
This Saturday’s performance is at 8 p.m. at Aspen District Theatre. Tickets are available at www.aspensantafeballet.com .