ASFB in rehearsal with director Tom Mossbrucker. Jessica Moore, Courtesy ASFB.

Creation is King at the Dual-City Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

In 1996, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet artistic director Tom Mossbrucker was a veteran Joffrey Ballet dancer with no aspirations to direct a company. But while visiting a Colorado music festival with his partner, Jean-Philippe Malaty, also a dancer, a chance encounter changed his mind. "We met Bebe Schweppe, who ran a ballet school in Aspen but always dreamt that the city could have its own resident company," Mossbrucker recalls. "We thought she was crazy and said, 'Good luck with that!' But she thought we were the ones who could do it." After a few weeks of discussion, the pair moved to Colorado and a company was born.


Nicolo Fonte's The Heart(s)pace

Sharen Bradford, Courtesy ASFB

Twenty-three years later, it's clear that Schweppe's intuition was spot-on. The troupe, which started as Aspen Ballet Company, grew into Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, a conceptually groundbreaking contemporary ballet company led by Mossbrucker and Malaty, who became its executive director. With 10 dancers on 52-week contracts (including full health, dental and retirement benefits), two home cities and flourishing schools serving the communities of Aspen and Santa Fe, ASFB has developed a reputation for bringing fledgling choreographic talent to national attention.

"We had no preconceived notions of what sort of company it should be," Mossbrucker says. "But the fact that we were both still dancers and had seen a lot of dysfunction in ballet companies was really our starting-off point. We thought there had to be a better way." They decided to approach the company from a dancer's point of view and create a healthy, nurturing environment.


Today their dual mission is to develop the careers of both dancers and choreographers. ASFB currently only performs work by living choreographers, most of which it commissions. Mossbrucker notes that Nicolo Fonte, Cayetano Soto and Jorma Elo, who were emerging dancemakers when ASFB first commissioned them, are still major players in the repertoire. "By their third or fourth commission, the work got deeper, the dancers understood it better and the choreographers left an indelible mark on the company," says Mossbrucker. In addition to new creations, works by Jiří Kylián and Alejandro Cerrudo have had a significant impact on defining the company's look, which combines classical lines and balletic ability with clean, contemporary versatility.

ASFB's seasons include one to two new works, plus revivals and an annual Nutcracker. The most recognizably classical ballet in the repertoire, its Nutcracker blends pointework and tutus with authentic traditional folk dances in the Act 2 divertissements.

Company class is designed to help the dancers move from one dancemaker's style to another. "I emphasize simplicity and clarity with no affectations, so the choreographers have a clean slate to work with," says Mossbrucker. "Everyone is very focused, but it's also about coming together as a team." The familial environment may be one reason why dancer turnover is so low. It's not unusual for performers to stay with the company for a decade or more. Fifteen-year veteran Katherine Bolaños says Mossbrucker's demeanor keeps the dancers motivated. "Something I love about Tom is how funny he is—his temperament is typically jovial and lighthearted, but when we're working on a hard show and need to focus on technique, he's more serious."

ASFB's Katherine Bolaños in Beautiful Mistake

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ASFB

While the company's base of operations remains in Aspen, in 2000, its board created a dual-city partnership with Santa Fe, New Mexico, to support its growing quality and ambition. ASFB presents the same programs in both cities and spends roughly a third of each year touring regionally and internationally. They recently performed in France and will appear in New York City and Israel during March and April.

Bolaños says that traveling bonds the dancers. "Working through issues when you're together so much helps us innately understand each other," she says. "Learning to connect with your peers onstage is an important skill, and the times we're most cohesive is when we're touring and performing more."

Since fitting into the fabric of the small group is crucial, auditions involve spending at least two days in Aspen learning rep with ASFB. "Part of our idea was to have a company of stars," Mossbrucker says. "Our dancers have an engaging, charismatic quality that makes them stand out onstage. I want each one to add a unique piece to the bouquet."

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet At a Glance

Number of dancers: 10

Length of contract: 52 weeks

Starting salary: Undisclosed

Union signatory: No

Performances per year: About 40

Website: aspensantafeballet.com

Audition Advice

Mossbrucker looks for dancers with maturity and experience: "I need them to step right into the group, and also be able to portray an open and honest quality onstage."

Audition is by invitation only. To be considered for a private audition, email your cover letter, headshot, dance photos, resumé and links to performance footage and a video of rehearsal or class to auditions@aspensantafeballet.com.

Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

An Infectious-Disease Physician on What Vaccines Mean for Ballet

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds into its second year, the toll on ballet companies—and dancers—has been steep. How long before dancers can rehearse and perform as they once did?

Like most things, the return to normal for ballet seems to hinge on vaccinations. Just over 22 percent of people in the U.S. are now vaccinated, a way from the estimated 70 to 85 percent experts believe can bring back something similar to pre-pandemic life.

But what would it mean for 100 percent of a ballet company to be vaccinated? Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini is about to find out—and hopes it brings the return of big ballets on the big stage.

"I don't think companies like ours can survive doing work for eight dancers in masks," Angelini says. "If we want to work, dance, and be in front of an audience consistently and with the large works that pay the bills, immunization is the only road that leads there."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks