Gisela Genschow grew up in Hamburg, Germany’s major port city and home to The Hamburg Ballet. It was backstage, in the troupe’s dressing room area, where she first saw the pink frill of the tutu and the broken-in pointe shoes (still pink, still pointed, but a little battered). There, she realized what she wanted to be.
“It was the attire of the professional ballerina,” says Genschow, who at that moment envisioned her future.
Several pirouettes of fate later, her journey led her to Santa Fe, where for the past 20 years, she’s been the director at School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, training a whole new generation of toe-pointers.
Currently, about 200 students are enrolled in the program. “We start students at the age of three,” says Karen Brettschneider, director of early childhood training at the school.
Getting a head start, these toddlers begin with the basics and, eventually, graduate from the program before heading off to the big leagues, if they so desire. Two of those graduates are performing in the recital, giving them a formal send-off of sorts.
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Annual Spring Recital is an opportunity for the school to serve up a smörgåsbord of entertainment. It starts with the youngest students (the age bracket of 3- to 5-year-olds) and progresses from there (eventually leading up to the finale of graduates). “The recital,” Brettschneider says, “can be a stamp of what’s being taught at the school.”
“Basically,” Genschow says, “I would say it is classical ballet.” She’s talking about the school’s curriculum.
Classical ballet, she says, is the apex of discipline, creating its base. “I did classical ballet, of course,” she reminisces. Later on, she dabbled in contemporary. That’s what the program teaches: fundamentals.
Yet, with such a rigid core as classical ballet (which teaches precision and technique and, as Genschow utters, the ineffable phrase, “Practice makes perfect”), the Spring Recital is counterbalanced by a repertoire of folkórico dances, to mix things up a bit.
“It’s traditional folk dance from Mexico,” says Alexander Manzanares, ballet folkórico instructor. Mexico is composed of 31 states, and “each state has different influences and different dances,” he says. “Northern Mexico has polka influences, which is more European; the Gulf side has African.” For instance: “One of my schools is doing a dance from Veracruz,” he explains. “It’s indigenous and a mixture of African; you can hear it in the music.”
In 1998, ASFB received a grant to sponsor their after-school program, a folkórico intensive. Manzanares has been part of the program for the past year. “Right now, we teach at seven public schools,” he says. “I’d say 90 percent of the kids that I have are Spanish-speaking, of Mexican heritage.”
Manzanares grew up in Albuquerque, but his parents are from Chihuahua. For him, the program—along with teaching traditional dances—also gives the students a sense of cultural conservation: the music, the movement and costumery of yesteryear. Folkórico, for the instructor, is a preservationist effort.
It’s a contrast, to say the very least—almost like oil and water—to watch classical ballet and folkórico back-to-back, completely intermingled, one dance following the other, the swirl of a full-length skirt and the perk of a pale pink tutu.
“That’s the nice thing about ballet,” says Genschow, who spent most of her previous career in Germany. “It’s totally international.”
Indeed, a pas de bourrée in Hamburg is a pas de bourrée elsewhere. Because on one hand, we have classical ballet (with roots spanning from Italy to France), but on the other, we have folkórico (a sprinkle European, a dash African, some indigenous and so on). And somehow, they blend.
The School of Aspen SF Ballet Spring Recital:
1 pm Sunday, May 26. $20-$25. The Lensic,
211 W San Francisco St., 988-1234