Gregg Bielemeier can’t help but tear up at certain moments during rehearsal for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s upcoming production, Beautiful Decay.
“I am aging, I am decaying, and that’s what the piece is about. I can’t ignore that,” Bielemeier, who will turn 69 next month, said in an interview Tuesday. “When I’m on stage, it’s a character, but it’s also me. It’s too real, but I love it.”
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet opens its season Tuesday with a premiere of its first evening-length ballet, Beautiful Decay, choreographed by Nicolo Fonte. (See sidebar for details on the performance, which will run three times this summer).
“It seems to have a somber theme, which is about the cycle of life, but for me, this piece is really a life-affirming work that’s full of joy and positivity and acceptance,” Fonte said of the production. “We have to see our inherent beauty in every part of our lives and every moment moving forward. We’re embracing the beauty of the process of aging, and ultimately, we have to accept that we won’t be here forever. … Well, I will. But not everyone else,” he quipped.
Bielemeier and Hilary Cartwright, also an accomplished dancer at 76, star as the guest artists in Beautiful Decay.
In the almost 20 years since Fonte and ASFB began working together, it has commissioned and premiered eight of his ballets, according to ASFB marketing director Jessica Moore. “So, it’s particularly special to now present what has become his signature work as our first evening-length ballet,” she said.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s performances traditionally feature three different ballets by three different choreographers, rather than dedicating an entire evening to one piece. With the exception of its annual Nutcracker production, “the scale of work [with Beautiful Decay] is larger than anything we’ve tackled in the past,” Moore said.
In the production notes, Fonte explains his draw to the piece: “The simple juxtaposition of pairing physically vigorous and experientially young dancers with the timeworn and hard-earned brilliance of elder dancers instantly created a compelling and irresistible dynamic for me to tap into.”
At a rehearsal Tuesday afternoon, Cartwright smiled from ear to ear while moving her body among Bielemeier and a troupe of fresh-faced dancers.
Cartwright said she wanted to be part of the production because she believes in its message and Fonte’s vision. “You ask what keeps me alive and up and fresh? It’s that joy,” she said. “You never lose the essence, that perfume, of what dance is about. It stays in you — it doesn’t matter how old you are.”
When Bielemeier and Cartwright talk about what keeps them dancing well into their 60s and 70s — in spite of hip replacements, injuries and aching joints — they exude a level of a passion that allows them to push through the pain and continually progress.
Put simply, they are happiest when they are dancing.
“Dance is the cure-all for me,” said Bielemeier. “I’m never in pain when I’m dancing.”
IF YOU GO…
What: Aspen Santa Fe
Ballet’s “Beautiful Decay”
When: 8 p.m. on July 9,
July 19 and Aug. 24
Where: Aspen District Theatre
Cost: Tickets range from $36 to $94 depending on seating.
Visit aspensantafeballet.com for tickets and more information.