When Covid befell Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, prompting the longtime entity to dissolve its dance company in March 2021, it left behind a trail of talent. The dancers—Katherine Bolanos, Sadie Brown, Matthew Gilmore, Anthony Tiedeman, Laurel Jenny Winton, and Kaya Wolsey, all classically trained—were left wondering if they were going to have to pursue careers elsewhere. But Aspen is known for its cultural attractions, and to lose a serious ballet company, they reasoned, would be a loss for the entire community.
Winton had the idea of starting her own company, but first she wanted to gauge the valley’s interest. “It was really just me speaking with friends and people, trying to get a feel if they valued what was shutting down,” she says. “I wanted to test the waters.” Her unofficial poll convinced her that the idea was worth it, so she put her money where her mouth was, flew out a choreographer friend, and joined her fellow dancers in agreeing to work and perform for free while holding down second jobs.
Thus was Aspen Sante Fe Ballet reborn as Dance Aspen. Winton is the founder, but all of the members—plus Sammy Altenau, a professional dancer who moved to Aspen during the pandemic—have assumed leadership roles. “None of us had positions in the leadership of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet because we were hired as artists,” Winton explains.
This boot-strapping approach has allowed the troupe to create a female-driven model that is a rarity in the male-dominated dance world. And while Winton and crew created the new model by accident, they are leaning into it and bending convention in other ways, too. “We make collective decisions; we talk about which themes we want, which choreographers we want to work with,” she says. “The artists have equity in the organization.”
In September, Dance Aspen put on The Pieces Fall at the Wheeler Opera House. The ballet told a story—fittingly—about resiliency and determination; the debut production was so well received that Winton and the troupe are carrying that energy forward into 2022. The next big show, which will be choreographed by Danielle Rowe, will take place in March. Although the title and exact date hadn’t been released at press time, Winton says “it’ll be very relative to Aspen, the place, and its history.”
Meanwhile, Dance Aspen is planning some appearances in partnership with Ski Co and is working on another creation with European choreographer Ana Maria Lucaciu. As Winton puts it: “We want to make sure we keep showing up and reminding people that we are building and bringing something to the audience of Aspen soon.”