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.

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"I knew that dancewear was really expensive and that a lot of students might not be able to do the thing that they love because it's cost-prohibitive," de Roos said. "I really wanted to create something to allow people to have the same experience of the love and joy of dance that I've been so grateful to have."

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"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

Jordan Reed, the creator of custom dancewear brand Lone Reed Designs, said she has donated seven items to Peace Love Leotards with plans to donate more consistently every quarter. Custom leotards often retail at higher prices, but Reed, a former Houston Ballet corps member, said the one-of-a-kind clothing offers an "extra bit of confidence, which can go more than a long way in a dancer's journey of training."

Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

De Roos said she and her young classmates often outgrew nearly brand-new dancewear, so she approached her studio's owner about placing a collection box at the studio.

Barbara Mizell, who owns Barbara's Centré for Dance in Florida, said she was unsurprised by de Roos' proposal. De Roos always had "such a way of pushing herself and she never forgot those around her," Mizell said. As the box filled up, she distributed the dancewear to others at the studio, local schools with dance programs, and the local YMCA.

"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

"The whole organization behind Peace Love Leotards is the dancers," de Roos said. "Being able to help the dancers that are in need and being able to think about the dancewear that they're going to be receiving or have received has been truly amazing."

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