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Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal  |  October 02, 2014

DanceCleveland brings Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to Akron on Sunday

Audiences loved seeing Aspen Santa Fe Ballet so much in Cleveland in 2010, DanceCleveland has brought the modern ballet company back to kick off the organization's dance season at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron Sunday afternoon.

"People kept begging for us to bring them back," said Pam Young, executive director for DanceCleveland. "We always pick companies that can help expand the view of the students" and general audiences.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, founded in 1996, is well known for working with European choreographers that are rarely seen in the United States. The new works that ASFB commissions from these hot choreographers across the pond are created specifically for its athletic American dancers and are known for breaking the divide between classical ballet and modern dance.

Beginning Sunday, ASFB is going to spend some quality time in Akron, the most time a visiting dance company will spend on the ground in Northeast Ohio all season in DanceCleveland's five-company lineup. ASFB will begin with a master class before its show Sunday and then conduct a four-day residency at the University of Akron with its college students as well as Dance Institute and high school students.

That means the ballet company will take over all of UA's dance classes for the week, teaching several ballet classes as well as offering lecture/demos and giving students the opportunity to observe ASFB's company class and company rehearsal.

Normally, UA students spend a week in residency with a visiting company and then see their performance. This time, the schedule will be reversed, which artistic director Tom Mossbrucker said will allow students to delve more deeply into the company.

"You see it [the performance] onstage but then they'll get a week to see who we are as a company and as performers," said Mossbrucker, who will be in Akron with the company and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty.

The teaching will go further than dance: ASFB lighting supervisor Seah Johnson and production stage manager Danny Bacheldor also will share their expertise with theater students Wednesday afternoon.

Mossbrucker, a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet for 20 years, said he's especially proud to have seen 28 new ballets created for ASFB by leading global choreographers in the last 18 years. That happened out of necessity, as the original six-member company was too small to perform big ballets and did not have a resident choreographer.

ASFB has enjoyed an exciting artistic partnership with Finnish-born choreographer Jorma Elo, whose Red Sweet became a signature work for the company that was toured all over the world. ASFB didn't know how Elo could top his sassy, sexy Red Sweet from 2008, but as the company begins its 19th season in Akron, it will perform a new signature work - Over Glow, commissioned from Elo in 2011.

"We love it so much we can't stop dancing it," Mossbrucker said of the bright, exuberant piece set to music by Mendelssohn and Beethoven.

Elo returned to ASFB just a few months ago to coach new company members on his Over Glow, helping them to feel like it was their own by adding stylistic changes that fit the new dancers.

Also on the Akron program is Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian's Return to a Strange Land, which Mossbrucker describes as simple, abstract, architecturally spacious yet emotional. Kylian created the on pointe piece, set to haunting piano music by Czech Leos Janacek, for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1975.

"It's a piece that's very special to me because I danced it at the Joffrey many, many years ago," Mossbrucker said.

Kylian, a pioneer in contemporary dance, was an important influence on Elo.

"Kylian is really one of the foremost living choreographers, along with [William] Forsythe," Mossbrucker said.

ASFB now has 11 dancers, six of whom are Juilliard graduates. One of them is 25-year-old Paul Busch, a Romanian-born dancer who grew up in Dayton and began dancing with the Dayton Ballet.

Busch said performing with just 10 other dancers means you're always either a principal dancer or soloist: "We don't have a corps de ballet. If you're on stage, it's for a reason. You really have to pull your own weight and you really have to be creative."

The ballet-trained Busch, a 2011 Juilliard graduate, said he had a breakthrough as a student when celebrated visiting Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin told him this while teaching him his dance MAX: "Paul, you have to dance like you have rabies - go crazy."

"The light went off. It totally change my dancing," Busch recalled.

The young dancer is especially proud to be performing the 2012 Square None in Akron, created by Norbert De La Cruz III, who was one year ahead of Busch at Juilliard. ASFB was the first company ever to commission De La Cruz to create a dance, having discovered him during his senior choreographic program at Juilliard in 2010.

In Square None, a grid is created by tape onstage. Dancers move in and out of its boxes as the light is sharply focused on various parts of the grid. The work is set to an eclectic musical collage of five composers.

"It's one of the most favorite things I've ever danced," Busch said.

De La Cruz has a fun and wonderful knack for torquing impeccable dance technique in new ways, Busch said: "He's created his own world and it's really fabulous to be a part of [it]."

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or She is also on Facebook at

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