The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is in its 20th season, and Saturday marks the world premiere of a new ballet from commercial choreographer Cherice Barton.
Barton has always been fascinated by spectacle.
“By theater, by large scale productions, film, Broadway,” said Barton.
The choreographer's credits sparkle. Her choreography has seen both the grand stages of Broadway and Vegas and television screens in L.A. But her backdrop is classical ballet.
“I felt more grounded in the studio than I did anywhere else, and I soon realized over the years that even though I had ventured into these exciting worlds, I needed to return to the studio,” she said. “I needed it for not only my own sanity but for my own creativity.”
Barton is the new choreographer behind the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s latest work, Eudaimonia. Greek for happiness. The ballet reflects on Barton’s own lifelong search for inner peace. It revolves around the notion that the adrenaline rush brought on by feelings of intense euphoria is fleeting.
“That feeling that I would always have when I felt really great after a show, or when I was playing with my kids, that happy feeling I always wanted to last and it never did,” Barton said.
It’s clear that Barton’s vision is resonating with the company. Tom Mossbrucker, artistic director at ASFB, is happy with the symbiotic relationship Barton and the company have developed. He anticipates that the audience will find the new piece refreshing.
“It's our 20th [anniversary], we're still celebrating. We have incredible repertoire, we have incredible dancers in the company, I think we're really at a real high point right now,” said Mossbrucker.
Also on the ticket this weekend are two modern ballets the company premiered in 2016. Alejandro Cerrudo’s Little Mortal Jump and Jiří Kylián’s Sleepless. But this weekend, Eudaimonia will be the centerpiece of the program. That’s because of Barton’s fascination with character building.
“One of the dancer's in my piece, Pete, his role in this piece is he's happiness,” she said. “He is that idea of that really happy feeling that is impossible to hang onto.”
“When you're in an office space, and there's the one guy who's really happy,” says Fredrick "Pete" Leo Walker, performing artist with ASFB. “I think overall that's my guy.”
Walker has been with the company for two years and sees how abstract ballets aren’t always accessible to audiences. Whereas in Eudaimonia, Walker said that Barton’s choreography always reflects on the character’s emotions.
“As we go throughout the process I'm starting to learn maybe this happy guy does have a different side,” he said. “Maybe he does feel something different or is affected by some of the dancers or the other aspects of the piece.”
The new work unfolds like a short story. Except the only words come from the music--another personal touch Barton has included.
The steps in the ballet are clever and minimalist, giving a quick nod to the modern ways that humans try to preserve feelings. But the story always comes back this overarching theme of happiness.
“Happiness is simple, but the way in which we seek it is very complicated and it's universal,” Barton said.
One way Barton seeks to achieve this is by collaborating with the dancers throughout the creative process.
“Most choreographers want to choreograph and tailor to the dancer and I think she’s really committing to that,” Walker said. “There’s a few steps that I’ve done since I was a kid that she’s incorporating.”
Walker’s introduction to dance came from learning to break dance. To showcase his background, Barton added a backspin followed by a kick out to one of his sequences.
“Cherice is so direct that there’s not a lot of time for the audience to second guess who or what someone may be. I think it’s very in your face,” he said.
Although Barton insists her dances are linear, she said Eudaimonia will always remain up to audience interpretation
“Nobody needs to know what every little thing means in every little movement,” Barton said. “They can make up their own story as they watch it. And it's going to be different for each person because each person has their own journey.”
After Saturday’s show, the company goes on tour, with performances scheduled in Beaver Creek and Denver next weekend. The company will return to the Aspen stage for an encore performance April 1. For more information, go to aspensantafeballet.com.