In poring over Aspen’s summer arts and culture calendars—as we do every year in an effort to provide you, our reader, a beacon amid the ocean of options—one word popped to mind above all others: ambitious. Each blockbuster year manages to exceed the last, with more and bigger marquee names and programming pushed to new heights. Literally hundreds of events are now wedged into the dozen or so weeks that make up the summer season. And many, perhaps most, of them are deserving of that hackneyed tag: world-class.

Beyond the dizzying number of performances, the institutions themselves have us contemplating the ambitious nature of Aspen culture. In the past two years alone, we’ve seen the unveiling of an elegant new music campus and an audacious contemporary arts facility, not to mention new festivals, new speaker series, and new names for venerated organizations. All of them bobbing on a swelling sea of invention and reinvention, vying for a larger slice of a far-too-finite pie—namely, your, the audience’s, attention.

But is biggering necessarily bettering (to borrow from Dr. Seuss)? Doesn’t vaulting ambition have a downside? (Look what it did to Macbeth.) Perhaps the most evident casualty of this cultural surfeit is that Aspen’s lazy days of summer are now little more than a quaint memory. We are, increasingly, hyperventilating our way through those formerly languid longest days of the year. 

To help you plot your arts and culture course—and catch your breath along the way—we herein offer up our top picks for summer 2015. 

CONFABS

Aspen—and this summer, Snowmass—have become ground zero for meetings of the minds, whether for politics, environmentalism, or staring at the stars.

AREDAY

Is there a more ambitious—or more urgent—goal than saving the planet? American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) seeks to have a hand in doing just that. What started as a single-day event to raise awareness among valley locals of the perils of climate change has grown into a six-day convocation of global business leaders, policy makers, scientists, and renewable energy activists.     

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Past AREDAY speakers have included billionaires, movie stars, congressmen, even former U.S. presidents—last year’s keynote speaker, Jimmy Carter, left a packed Hotel Jerome ballroom agog by connecting the dots between a dying planet and the economic oppression of women—all spreading the gospel of sustainability. Among this year’s headliners is Chinese businessman Huang Ming, perhaps the first person in the world to make a billion dollars—you read that right, with a “b”—from harnessing solar energy. 

 

For its twelfth annual summit, AREDAY moves to Snowmass Village and expands its community-outreach efforts. Spreading out across the Snowmass Mall on August 12 and 13, the AREDAY expo is a sustainable energy street fair where the public can learn about the latest in clean technologies.

“At AREDAY we focus ten percent on the problem and ninety percent on the solution,” says founder and CEO Chip Comins (who, full disclosure, is this writer’s brother). 

Other AREDAY outreach efforts include an environmental film festival, the centerpiece of which is Racing Extinction, the latest from Louie Psihoyos, the Oscar-winning director of The Cove who will be on hand for the event. AREDAY wraps up with a free concert on Fanny Hill, in collaboration with the Town of Snowmass, featuring longtime conservationist and climate crusader Taj Mahal. 

“It’s important to include arts and culture in the conversation as a means of engaging the public,” Comins says, before throwing out this tidbit: “Did you know a new solar roof is coming online in the U.S. every two and a half minutes? You cannot stop the juggernaut of renewable energy.” areday.net, 970-948-9929 


PICKS 

President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter
in conversation with Walter Isaacson

June 23, Aspen Institute, Greenwald Pavilion 

Anyone who saw Jimmy Carter speak at AREDAY last summer can tell you that at age ninety the thirty-ninth president of the United States can still run rings around the pundits. In his latest book, A Call to Action, the Nobel Peace Prize winner asserts that the world’s biggest problems stem from systemic discrimination and violence against women and girls. One of the world’s leading humanitarians, Carter lays out the extent of the oppression in alarming detail and, more important, offers implementable real world solutions. (Too late to run him for another term?) aspeninstitute.org, 970-544-7951

Courtney E. Martin

June 25–28, 2015, Aspen Ideas Festival: Spotlight Health 

Best-selling author-activist Parker Palmer calls Martin “one of our most insightful culture critics and one of our finest young writers.” Columbia Journalism Review says her work is “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” At thirty-five, Martin is the author and/or editor of several books, a highly sought-after speaker, and a prolific blogger. Writing on such diverse topics as “The Myth of Multitasking: Longing to Be Absorbed Wholly,” and the “pathological perfectionism” in young women that has elevated eating disorders to cult status, Martin is flat-out inspiring, and a bright light of sanity in a noisy driven world. aspeninstitute.org, 970-544-7951 

Aspen Brain Lab

July 25, Paepcke Auditorium 

Whether you are in, approaching, or beyond midlife (or if you have seen the film Still Alice), you’ll want to check out the Aspen Brain Lab. An entire day devoted to brain fitness: how to maximize it, keep it, and get it back when it grows flabby around the middle. Walter Isaacson discusses the Innovative Brain, and a host of experts speak on topics from the Impaired Brain to the Healthy Brain to the Future Brain. The day wraps with a chanting meditation by twelve Tibetan monks. But first you’ll learn the brain benefits of “hip-hop meditation,” “sacred acoustics,” and “power breath for peak performance.” aspenbrainlab.com  

Stargazer Ice Cream Social

August 12, Aspen Science Center and Aspen Center for Physics 

Bring the kids to this tasty, fun, and informative event. Teens from the Aspen Science Center will make ice cream using liquid nitrogen; visiting physicists will share secrets of the cosmos; astronomers from the Three Rivers Astronomy Club will help you and the youngsters map the night sky through a host of giant telescopes. Ice cream and summer never tasted so smart. aspenphys.org, 970-925-2585  


VISUAL ARTS

Whatever your tastes—whether plein-air painting or avant-garde installation—valley arts organizations serve up a satisfying feast for the eyes.

ASPEN AT MUSEUM

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Chris Ofili: Night and Day

Ovid-Desire, 2011-12
Private collection
Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York

If ever there were a poster child for the naked ambition of Aspen’s arts scene, the Aspen Art Museum would have to be it. After more than three decades modestly housed in a converted hydroelectric plant on the Roaring Fork River, a year ago, amidst much controversy, the museum moved into its new digs in the center of town. While the debate over the appropriateness of a 36,000-square-foot, $45 million woven cube smack in the middle of Aspen’s historically Victorian vernacular may never altogether go away, the vitriol from critics seems to have quieted.

 

“I knew the new museum would become a great source of pride for residents and visitors to Aspen, and it is especially gratifying to see it occur on such a short timeline,” says museum director Heidi Zuckerman. The focus now is to get as many people through those sleek glass doors as possible and deliver programming that lives up to the venue.  

Punctuating the size and scope of the new space, this summer the museum presents its first facility-wide exhibition. Chris Ofili’s Night and Day (July 17–Nov. 1) is fresh from a lauded run at New York City’s New Museum. The exhibition includes more than thirty of the artist’s major paintings, plus scores of drawings and sculptures created throughout his celebrated, sometimes controversial, career. 

Even those with little interest in contemporary art will likely find a visit to the museum irresistible. After all, who doesn’t love movies—especially when they’re free and take place outside under star-filled skies? Friday nights starting May 29, AAM runs its Movies at the Museum series on the roof. The theme this summer is coming-of-age stories, kicking off with Beasts of the Southern Wild and including classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. aspenartmuseum.org, 970-925-8050 


PICKS

Linda Girvin: Presence with Absence 

June 5–July 4, Wyly Annex, Basalt

Fine-art photographer Girvin’s larger-than-life, semi-abstract images of dead birds are a thought-provoking comment on the ephemeral nature of existence. The exhibition is intended as a meditation on life and death (“two sides of the same coin,” says Girvin), in which the overriding aesthetic is beauty. wylyarts.org, 970-927-4123 

Lunchtime Auctionettes

June 12 & 19; July 10 & 24; August 7, 14 & 28; September 18, Anderson Ranch Arts Center

These lively mini-auctions are fast and fun events where the public gets to bid on art created by Anderson Ranch Arts Center faculty, visiting artists, students, and staff, complete with a top-notch BBQ lunch (a steal at $10). Past auction attendees have scored pieces by Japanese national treasure Takashi Nakazato and the Ranch’s own associate director Doug Casebeer—who also happens to have been a pottery/ceramics consultant to the United Nations. andersonranch.org, 970-923-3181 

Powers Art Center 

New exhibit beginning June 15, Carbondale

This summer, the Powers Art Center rotates its crop of Jasper Johns works, bringing in more than a hundred new pieces. The Roaring Fork Valley’s best-kept arts secret since it opened in July of 2014, Powers holds a complete body of Johns’s limited-edition works on paper. As with the previous exhibition, the new one is curated chronologically to reveal the progression of the iconic pop artist’s work. The Hiroshi Nanamori–designed minimalist building in the bucolic hills outside Carbondale is reason enough to make the trip. powersartcenter.org, 970-963-4445 

Guns in the Hands of Artists 

Mid-June–early August, Aspen Institute’s Paepcke and Hines Galleries

More than thirty artists used decommissioned rifles and handguns from the streets of New Orleans obtained via a citywide gun buyback program as inspiration for the artworks in this collection. Showing deadly weapons in a provocative light, the exhibition is designed to spark dialogue about rampant gun violence in the U.S. A public reception with curator Jonathan Ferrara takes place on July 27. aspeninstitute.org, 970-544-7951  

Plein Air Festival 

August 9–15, various locations in Aspen & the Limelight Hotel 

The Red Brick Center for the Arts invites nearly two dozen of Colorado’s top landscape artists to convene in Aspen for a week of alfresco painting. Approximately half of the artists hail from the Roaring Fork Valley, including longtime locals Mike Otte, Georgeann Waggaman, and Michael Kinsley. Their artworks will be auctioned at week’s end during an exhibition at the Limelight Hotel, with proceeds benefiting the Red Brick. It’s a great opportunity to take home for your wall a sliver of Aspen’s exquisite environs rendered on canvas. aspenart.org, 970-429-2777 


WRITTEN & SPOKEN WORD

A bookstore saved, storytelling salons, and winners of Peabodys, Emmys, and Pulitzers on stage: it’s a fine time to be a lover of sentences in Aspen.

EXPLORE BOOKSELLERS

When the For Sale sign went up in front of Explore Booksellers last summer, the nerves of local bibliophiles grew justifiably a-jitter. Around the country, independent bookstores have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Quaint Victorians on prime Aspen property have been snatched up for private or high-end commercial use even faster. There was little reason to believe the beloved bookstore and upstairs bistro would survive intact.  

 

Aspen absent a bookstore was such a dismal prospect that a handful of longtime locals formed a citizens’ committee to find a buyer willing to keep it going as a labor of love. Last January, members of Public Interest Network appeared seemingly out of the mist. The national nonprofit consortium of environmental and social justice groups made an offer and surprised everyone. It turns out that hundreds of the organization’s members have been vacationing in Aspen as a group for more than thirty years. After all that time, “we feel part of the community,” says Doug Phelps, PIN’s president and chairman. The group schedules its annual visits the week before winter high season begins. The bookstore has historically been its members’ favorite place for last-minute holiday gifts. And, Phelps notes, it’s one of the few places left where they can afford to shop.

Specializing in socially responsible investing, PIN has a track record for turning around struggling but worthy enterprises. Phelps believes that with some modest internal adjustments the store can become self-sustaining. At any rate, it’s a risk he and his colleagues are willing to assume for the next five years at least. 

An eleventh-hour save by a self-described “social entrepreneur”? Now that’s the stuff of good fiction. To bask in the good vibes, attend the Save Explore Community Celebration on June 5, 5–7 p.m. explorebooksellers.com, 970-925-5336 


PICKS 

Stories We Tell Ourselves: Chapter II

Through October 25, Aspen Art Museum 

Exploring the intersection of art and language, the second installment of Stories We Tell Ourselves features works by Jenny Holzer, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Christopher Wool, Yoko Ono, and Louise Lawler. Be sure to ride the museum’s glass elevator. You’ll hear Birdcalls, Lawler’s 1972 sound recording in which she interprets the names of prominent male artists as birdcalls, as a way of poking fun at oversize egos while underscoring gender inequality in the arts. aspenartmuseum.org, 970-925-8050

 Writing Home with Richard Russo, Hannah Tinti, and Akhil Sharma

June 23, Aspen Words, Paepcke Auditorium 

To hear any one of these remarkable, multiple-award-winning writers discuss how the concept of “home” infuses their work would be inspiring enough. All three of them onstage at the same time, ideas flying, dialogue sparking, is a book lover’s dream. aspenwords.org, 970-925-3122

John Prine 

July 10, Belly Up 

One of the most influential folk/rock songwriters of his generation, John Prine has an oblique sensibility and exquisite turns of phrase that make him a songwriter’s songwriter. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash put Prine at the top of their own lists for inspiration. Need we say more? bellyupaspen.com, 970-785-8500 

 Writ Large 

May 27 & July 15, Justice Snow’s 

This storytelling salon is Aspen’s homegrown version of the Moth, in which true personal stories are told before a live audience. Social media can’t hold a candle to the old-fashioned human connectivity and real-life community building that goes on at these intimate events. Stories shared by brave locals and special guests tend to be funny or moving—or both. justicesnows.com, 970-429-8192

Garrison Keillor/A Prairie Home Companion 

August 24, Benedict Music Tent 

Woe is not Aspen—especially with Garrison Keillor bringing his Lake Wobegon brand of humor here for a live taping of the famously folksy radio show, co-presented by the Aspen Music Festival and Belly Up. The Prairie Home Companion host has been weaving spoken-word tales of the American mosaic for more than forty years. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 


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Clockwise from top: Courtesy: Aspen Art Museum, Courtesy: JohnPrine.com, Courtesy: Aspen Words (3)

Best Seats in the House

Toss out your desire to be close enough to see the sweat on Gwen Stefani’s forehead, forget about proximity to the bar, and disregard the easy access of aisle seats. If the only criterion were sound quality, these are the best seats in Aspen’s music venues.—Andrew Travers 

Belly Up

On the floor, ten feet from stage, center. Every surface in the basement club is treated with foam and wood to deaden its sound, giving it the pristine quality of a recording studio. So there aren’t many bad spots sound-wise. 

 

The best, according to Belly Up production manager Shane Vetter, is the middle of the dance floor. The P.A. speakers on each side of the stage are pointed right at you, the sound’s not bouncing off of anything before it reaches you, and you’re not far enough away for its detail to have degraded. 

Benedict Music Tent

600 section, center. You’re elevated above the ground level in the tent’s bowl, so the curvature of the Benedict stage can direct sound at your head unimpeded. These may be the best seats in terms of sound. They aren’t, however, the most popular in the house. Those are on the aisles in the orchestra section. A few rows up the 600 section is Aspen Music Festival and School president Alan Fletcher’s favorite spot, though he doesn’t get to sit there. As Music Festival tradition dictates, the president sits in the last row overlooking the house.

JAS Labor Day Experience

Halfway between stage and sound booth, center. Conventional wisdom at outdoor shows is to get as close to the sound tent as you can. That way, you’re hearing what the sound techs are hearing as they mix the show. But JAS systems engineers tune the sound and set their equalizers for concerts at Labor Day from this point, closer in. So, in theory, the mix and volume is perfect here. The farther away you get, the less sound will reach you, and the more the music is subject to elements like wind and hot air pockets.

Wheeler Opera House

Balcony rows A, B and C, center. You’re about fifty feet from singer’s position on stage, with the venue’s shape funneling sound directly to you. The 126-year-old concert hall, built before modern microphones existed, is designed to load acoustically to the rear without amplification. So sound techs simply try to turn up what’s happening on stage, says the venue’s soundman, Gordon Wilder. “Bottom line,” he says, “the Wheeler sounds good because the Wheeler sounds good.” 

MUSIC

From Jazz Aspen Snowmass’s twenty-fifth anniversary to a bluegrass–hip-hop mash-up to Verdi with a full chorus, this summer’s lineup is typically top-notch and diverse.

JAZZ ASPEN SNOWMASS

James Horowitz, Jazz Aspen Snowmass founder and CEO, knows firsthand the pitfalls of ambition. Celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this summer, JAS currently enjoys unprecedented success and stability. It wasn’t always so. Horowitz recalls that as recently as five years ago the organization’s future was far from certain. “It’s an annual dance, this thing,” he says. “The music industry is constantly changing.” 

A quarter century ago, Horowitz’s vision was modest: put a handful of jazz concerts into the Benedict Music Tent the weekend before the classical music season got underway. The response was modest, too. It wasn’t until the make-it-or-break-it third year, and a move to a funky tent on the rodeo grounds in Snowmass Village, that things really began to click. B.B. King headlined, and a spark was ignited that Horowitz compares to meeting the person you later end up marrying: “You come home and go: Huh. What just happened?” 

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Seemingly overnight, the organization went from zero to sixty. The Labor Day festival was introduced. Unshackling itself from the constraints of jazz programming, JAS began pulling the country’s top rock, pop, and alternative bands. Tens of thousands of music fans descended on Snowmass for the long weekend. In no time, the Labor Day festival had eclipsed the flagship event in June. Meanwhile, JAS signed on to manage a sister event in Sonoma, California, and core constituents started complaining they could no longer find the jazz in Jazz Aspen.  

 

Two decades on, a confluence of institutional overreach, a title sponsor claimed by the recession, and shifts in the music industry that made landing big name acts harder nearly brought the organization to its knees.

In 2010, JAS underwent major restructuring. A booking deal was signed with music industry giant AEG; key programs were identified and strengthened. Everything else was cut. After some serious soul searching and mission realignment—including the fine tuning of JAS Café, a series of intimate jazz concerts that take place in winter and summer—the organization has emerged stronger than ever.  

On the opening night of this year’s June festival (June 26–July 6), JAS pulls out all the stops to celebrate its quarter-century mark. Coinciding with the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra, the evening features the Count Basie Orchestra with Kurt Elling and Roberta Gambarini doing the Sinatra songbook. Funk master Maceo Parker rounds out the double bill in what is sure to be a party for the ages. And locals are calling the Labor Day (Sept. 4–6) lineup—including No Doubt, Lenny Kravitz, and Jimmy Cliff—the best in years.

Also, new this summer: the JAS Café ventures beyond its venue downstairs at the Little Nell to hold shows outdoors on the roof of the Aspen Art Museum. Our pick: the Django Festival Allstars, June 30 & July 1. jazzaspensnowmass.org, 970-920-4996

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Photo courtesy of: ACRA, Alex Irvin, Aspen Music Festival

NOTED HISTORIES

Exceptional instruments of recent coinage and others made before the Declaration of Independence was signed make appearances on stage at the Aspen Music Festival each summer, many with storied, sometimes scandalous—and mostly little-known—histories. —A.T.

Joshua Bell’s violin endured two thefts, one deathbed confession, and three centuries of intrigue before it made it into his hands. It has remained among the most sought-after violins on Earth since it was fabricated in Italy by Antonio Stradivari in 1713. Stolen from backstage at Carnegie Hall in 1936, it resurfaced five decades later, when musician Julian Altman—just before his death—admitted to buying it from the Carnegie bandit and surreptitiously playing it throughout his career. Bell bought it, legitimately, for about $4 million and has played it since 2003.

Made in 1735 by Guenari del Gesu, Robert McDuffie’s violin, known as “the Ladenburg,” is valued at $3.5 million and owned by an LLC made up of more than a dozen investing partners. McDuffie will put its reputation to the test this summer in a program co-presented by the Aspen Science Center, during which he’ll play the Ladenburg, eighteenth-century Italian violins, and modern replicas in a blind “taste test,” allowing an Aspen crowd to vote on which sounds best.

Pianists in the Benedict Music Tent will perform on a Steinway Model D Concert Grand, purchased by AMFS in 2014. Grand as it may be, the piano is something of a consolation prize. Steinway sends a quiver of pianos to Aspen each summer for students and faculty, and the company gives AMFS the first option to purchase any of them at season’s end.

Six years ago, one standout Steinway made waves, and musicians and other institutions vied to own it. As word of the piano’s immaculate sound spread, Yefim Bonfman and a slew of performers sought to buy it, along with Juilliard and the University of Texas. When AMFS attempted to exercise its legal right to purchase it, Steinway demurred, citing its many suitors and the budding bidding war. The piano returned to New York, where it is available for visiting artists to use in the city’s concert halls. Steinway offered AMFS the first pick of pianos the next time it wanted to buy one, which led to last year’s purchase. 

PICKS 

Gangstagrass 

July 9, Snowmass Free summer concert Series, Fanny Hill 

Could there be a more unlikely musical mash-up than bluegrass and rap? Gangsta-grass manages to successfully weave inner-city beat-box rhythms and rap with feverish Appalachia-rooted picking styles. The result is a joyful new genre sprung from surprising bedfellows, and best experienced live. Plus, it’s free. stayaspensnowmass.com, 888-649-5982 

Lake Street Dive 

July 11, Belly Up 

This indie band delivers an R&B shot in the arm. The quartet’s big soulful sound, joyful harmonies, and solid rhythms will have you up on your feet fast. Lead singer Rachael Price’s sultry voice is a smooth honeyed wonder. For a teaser, check out the YouTube of the band’s cover of I Want You Back recorded on a Boston street corner. It’s up to almost three million hits. bellyupaspen.com, 970-785-8500 

Messiaen: Vingt Regards
sur L’Enfant Jésus
Piano Recital by Steven Osborne 

August 1, Harris Concert Hall 

An edgy tour-de-force, this work is known as “fiendishly difficult,” even panic-inducing, for pianists who are brave enough to take it on. A suite of twenty pieces, the program runs two hours, requiring stamina from both player and listener. Those up to the challenge will be deeply rewarded by the mind-expanding masterpiece. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042

 Verdi: Aida
Aspen Chamber Symphony with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Chorus

August 7, Benedict Music Tent

This big romantic opera known for its grandeur, depth, and beauty features huge voices and a huge chorus set against the sweeping backdrop of ancient Egypt. Star-crossed lovers, warring kingdoms, heroic sacrifices—follow the story libretto in hand to wring the most meaning from the performance. Or simply sit back and let the overwhelming beauty of the music wash over you. Either way, you can’t go wrong. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 


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Photo by: RJ Muna, Courtesy: Aspen Fringe Festival

THEATER & DANCE

No genres of performance have made a bigger, more ambitious leap forward of late than the works produced for the stage. 

ASPEN FRINGE FESTIVAL

When it comes to the performing arts, Aspen audiences have tended to play it safe. Classical masterpieces and lighthearted fare pack the house. Edgy, progressive, remotely unsettling material—not so much.  

 

The Aspen Fringe Festival is starting to change that. Entering its seventh season, this bare-bones organization founded and almost single-handedly run by actor-producer David Ledingham has gained a reputation for producing some of the best shows in town. Last year’s sold-out production of David Ives’s Venus in Fur left audiences buzzing for days. One local patron called Aspen Fringe “Velcro theater”—the kind that sticks with you long after the curtain falls.  

Aspen Fringe Festival director of dance (and Ledingham’s wife) Adrianna Thompson is a San Francisco– and Aspen-based choreographer. The two set the bar high for their respective art forms and don’t shy away from difficult material. As a result, their work is gaining notice both inside and outside the Roaring Fork Valley. (Thompson’s Soulskin dance company recently landed on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle arts section.) 

“I still believe great art can change the world,” says Ledingham, who grew up in Aspen before spending years working in television and national and regional theaters. “It’s happened to me; I’ve seen theater that has literally changed my life.” 

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Photo by: Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

This summer, Aspen Fringe (June 11–16 at the District Theatre) hosts Broadway playwright Sharr White as playwright-in-residence. Of particular note is an evening of scenes pulled from three of White’s plays. One of them, Stupid Kid, is a brand-new play commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. Local audiences will get a rare sneak peak in advance of Steppenwolf’s own reading of the play in August. The evening also includes scenes from Annapurna, White’s domestic drama set in nearby Paonia (identified in a New York Times review as “a speck of a town high in the mountains of Colorado”). 

The dance portion of the festival showcases Robert Moses’ Kin Dance Company. Moses hails from San Francisco and has had his work commissioned by numerous companies, among them the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Thompson says she is eager to introduce Moses to Aspen audiences, saying, “He’s poetic as well as political in his ideas, and he finds so many unusual ways to express his passions through movement.” aspenfringefestival.org 


PICKS

Other Desert Cities

In repertory throughout the summer at Theatre Aspen’s Hurst Theatre

 A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities received rave reviews on Broadway in 2011 (with Stockard Channing giving what some called the performance of her career). The wickedly funny, complex drama centers on an erudite family of political opposites at a Palm Springs family reunion that goes explosively awry. theatreaspen.org, 970-925-9313 

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet 

July 18, July 28, August 22, Aspen District Theatre 

After taking a hiatus last winter, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is back with a powerhouse program that includes a world premiere of a new dance by Alejandro Cerrudo, resident choreographer for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. ASFB’s second commissioned work from Cerrudo, the piece represents a progression between the celebrated Spanish-born choreographer and Aspen’s renowned hometown company, says ASFB executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty: “He knows the company now; he knows what the dancers are capable of.” Expect Cerrudo to push them to new heights. In addition to the new work, audiences will see fresh faces: ASFB has hired three new dancers. aspensantafeballet.com, 970-925-7175 

María de Buenos Aires 

August 11, Aspen Music Festival 

Written in the summer of 1968, when composer Ástor Piazzolla was ensnared in a love triangle in Argentina, this “tango opera” is full of smoldering passion, exquisite poetry, and unusual instrumentation with a spotlight on the bandoneón, South America’s soulful accordion. The opera is often performed with dancers, although it is presented here in a concert version. But close your eyes, and the music will conjure for you porteños in a desperate cheek-to-cheek embrace. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 


FILM

Who needs blockbusters? The big screens in the Roaring Fork Valley deliver celluloid experiences that stretch the mind and stir the soul.

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5POINT FILM

A week after Sarah Wood’s father attended his first 5Point film festival, the Indiana machinist quit the job he’d worked for forty-five years, climbed on his motorcycle, and headed out for parts unknown. If attending the outdoor-adventure film festival could have that kind of impact on her own salt-of-the-earth dad, Wood, 5Point’s executive director, believes it can inspire anyone to wake up and get outside. 

 

“Moments in nature refresh us, remind us to check back in with our lives, to ask ourselves, ‘Is this what I should be doing?’” she says. The short films showcased at 5Point function as a wake-up call.

Wood says that unlike other outdoor-adventure film festivals that trade in “adventure porn” (i.e., extreme people doing extreme things in extreme places), 5Point focuses on real people doing what inspires them most in the out-of-doors. Subjects might range from a boy who overcomes bullying through break dancing to a woman suffering from MS who finds relief through synchronized swimming. Each of the short films reveals a seize-the-day, grab-your-passion-and-go ethos. Judging from the audience response, the 5Point formula works. Each spring, the festival sells out all four days at the Carbondale Recreation Center, which packs in 800 chairs for the event.

The key to 5Point’s success, says Wood, is “hundreds of people watching the same program at the same time, getting the same energy, talking about the same films when they leave. That kind of experience builds community like nothing else.”

5Point is primed to expand its community exponentially. Two years ago the organization began road-testing mini-festivals outside the Roaring Fork Valley. Last year it hosted single-day events in nearly a dozen cities from Bellingham, Washington, to Richmond, Virginia. Currently, organizers are developing festival hubs in every region of the country, all modeled after the flagship program in Carbondale.

Missed the festival here this spring? Not to worry. 5Point is coming to a theater near you. 5pointfilm.org, 970-510-5523 


PICKS

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Movies at the Museum: American Graffiti 

July 3, Aspen Art Museum 

You can’t go wrong with any of the classic coming-of-age movies in this series, but if we had to pick just one, this would be it. One of the most influential teen films ever made, American Graffiti’s nostalgic story of lost innocence at summer’s end lends itself perfectly to outdoor rooftop viewing. aspenartmuseum.org, 970-925-8050 

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler Alan Fletcher, composer; Bill Morrison, filmmaker

July 10, Aspen Music Festival, Benedict Music Tent 

Last year’s screening of the Bill Morrison film The Great Flood, with live accompaniment by jazz great Bill Frisell, was astonishing for its power and beauty and for the way that each art form elevated the other. This year, the Aspen Music Festival has commissioned Morrison to create a film to accompany a new commissioned work from the festival’s own Alan Fletcher. For his fifteen-minute tone poem, Fletcher took inspiration from his own experience of a summer in Italy with friends that turned out quite differently than any of them had expected.

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On that trip, Fletcher says, he read the experimental novel If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino. Since then, the composer has associated the book’s unusual narrative structure with his memories of Italy. Morrison, too, knew of and loved the novel. He set about making a film to visually reflect the themes of the book and Fletcher’s experience in Italy. The film debuts alongside Fletcher’s tone poem. “The film is kind of a way into the music,” says Fletcher. “It’s an invitation, as it were. Visual elements make it easier to hear a piece for the first time.” aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 

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