NEVER STAND STILL -- Dance is moving, changing, evolving at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

At first glance the cities of Aspen, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M., would appear to have little in common besides their mountainous elevations — both more than 7,000 feet above sea level. However, the two locales also share an appreciation for the cultural arts and, because of this, they share a world-renowned ballet company.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet will return to New Orleans for the first time since 2008 on Saturday for one performance at 8 p.m. in the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.

ASFB will perform three works during its New Orleans engagement, Norbert De La Cruz III’s “Square None,” Jorma Elo’s neon-colored “Over Glow” and Jiri Kylian’s “Return to the Strange Land.”

The dances will be performed by ASFB’s 12-member troupe, evenly divided at six men and six women.

Tickets are on sale now at the theater box office and through the presenter, the New Orleans Ballet Association.

Prices range from $20-$80, with discounts offered for students, seniors and groups, and good seats are still available.

Since its founding in 1996 as Aspen Ballet, and its merger with Santa Fe Ballet four years later, the company has staged works by some of the world’s most renowned choreographers, as well as commissioning new works by others, some two dozen in all.

In its 17 years, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has performed in Europe, Latin America and Asia, in addition to some of the most prestigious venues and dance festivals in the United States.

ASFB is also an incubator for new talent, with schools in both Aspen and Santa Fe. Thousands of dancers, many of whom have gone on to perform with other professional dance companies, have received training at the ASFB schools.

ASFB executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty and artistic director Tom Mossbrucker have been with the company from the beginning.

Over the years they have continually expanded the company’s repertoire to include more than 70 dance sequences from some of the top names in choreography, including George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, David Parsons, Moses Pendleton, Trey McIntyre, Dwight Rhoden, William Forsythe and many others.

Like many of the prominent American dance companies founded in the late 20th century, ASFB positioned itself on the leading edge of the art form’s stylistic evolution.

Mossbrucker and Malaty, longtime dancers themselves, perceptively observed that classical ballet was breaking free of its traditional boundaries and the divide between it and modern dance was dissolving.

Athletic and adventurous American dancers were experimenting with and perfecting new styles, techniques and innovations that incorporated the latest in modern lighting and computer graphics technology.

Elaborating on the company’s style and mission, Malaty noted that, “Ballet is an evolving dance form. It’s not stuck in time, though some people have in their minds what ballet should be,” and they might not be open to more contemporary styles.

“We’re interested in moving the dance medium forward, rather than looking backward,” Malaty continued. “We’d rather discover new talent and make ballet more actual. We try to develop our own unique identity and style, and the only way to do that is by commissioning new works.”

As an example of this company philosophy, Malaty cited young people like De La Cruz, who at 24 “is instilling the art form with more contemporary dance techniques.” Malaty takes pride in the role ASFB played in discovering De La Cruz and commissioning his first work.

However, classical ballet styles are still very much a part of the company’s repertoire. Malaty noted that one of the dance numbers being performed in New Orleans will be en pointe.

The company also does a traditional “Nutcracker” production in Aspen every year around the Christmas holidays.

Prior to the performance Sunday, at 7:15 p.m., audience members are invited to join Malaty and Mossbrucker for a talk on the Mezzanine (Level M2) of the Mahalia Jackson Theater.

Tickets may be purchased through the New Orleans Ballet Association Box Office at (504) 522-0996 or online at www.nobadance.com or through TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com.