In the world of dance, there's often a clear demarcation between classical ballet and modern dance. Perhaps that's because many companies grow out of the vision of one choreographer who feels most comfortable or most expressive in one style or the other. The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet -- formed seven years ago as a joint venture between companies in the two Rocky Mountain resort communities -- isn't like most companies, though. The ASFB dances its own eclectic path among styles under the direction of Jean-Philippe Malaty and Tom Mossbrucker, both dancers who have worked with the Joffrey Ballet and other companies. Following a summer of critically acclaimed performances at the Joyce Theater in New York City and at historic Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts, the company brings something for everyone to the Beasley Coliseum in Pullman this Sunday as part of the Festival Dance Great Performances Series.
"We always try to do as diverse a program as we can," Mossbrucker explains from a rehearsal hall in Aspen. "Jean-Philippe and I don't consider ourselves choreographers, but we think the variety is good for the dancers."
Mossbrucker hails from Tacoma, where he started tap dancing at age four and eventually moved on to ballet with the Tacoma Performing Dance Company. He studied in New York with the School of American Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet School and then danced with the Joffrey Ballet, performing principal roles in over 70 ballets. He and Malaty, who is from the Basque region of France, have shaped the ASFB into a troupe that's comfortable in a broad variety of dance styles, from classical to jazz to modern.
"We're always on the lookout for new pieces," he says. "One of our biggest challenges is finding a work that's suitable for the company. We pick things that we like and that will be good for the dancers and fun for the audience."
The company has commissioned several works from notable choreographers in recent years, and two of those works are on the program this weekend. Noir Blanc, which was created by MOMIX and Pilobolus founder Moses Pendleton especially for the ASFB, features dancers in black-and-white unitards and uses lighting and scrims to create ethereal images and visual illusions.
"Moses Pendleton doesn't usually work outside his own company," says Mossbrucker. "But he took a chance on us, and we got a masterpiece from him."
The other commission on the program is Nicolo Fonte's Left Unsaid, an impressionistic contemporary piece for four males, four females and three chairs. "This is the fourth ballet we've commissioned from him," Mossbrucker explains. "It's about relationships and the ways people interact. There's no real story, but it is fluid in its emotions."
The company will open with Transtangos, a classical piece originally choreographed in 1986 for the Miami City Ballet by Jimmy Gamonet de Los Heros and performed to the music of Astor Piazzolla. Solos, duos and trios emerge from the work's tango theme, with lots of energy and the women en pointe.
"This is a strong program that really shows off the diversity of the company," says Mossbrucker. "There's something in here for everyone. Even if the meaning isn't clear in a piece, it can still be accessible. It'll still be thought-provoking."
An added bonus for Inland Northwest dance fans is the chance to see Brooke Klinger, one of ASFB's principal dancers, who grew up in Coeur d'Alene and is a 1995 graduate of Gonzaga Prep. Klinger studied with Ceci Klein at the Ballet School of Coeur d'Alene before heading off to the dance program at the University of Utah, and she is excited to come back and dance in front of a local audience.
"My teacher has not seen me dance live professionally, and she'll be there," she says. "And for my parents, it's an easier show for them to come see."
She enjoys the company's eclectic repertoire and says the variety has stretched her artistically. "It's a challenge, but it keeps things fresh," she says. "In one night, I could be in pointe shoes, bare feet and high heels. I feel much more adaptable now."
Klinger joined the ASFB at its inception, and her career has grown along with the company. Since it was her first professional job, she says she came in just for the experience and with no expectations. Over time, however, her relationship with the company has deepened. "The directors are great," she says. "It has grown into something really worthwhile, and I want to stay and see how far it goes."