Disclosure: I was a guest of Vail Local Marketing District, who hosted my experience at the Vail International Dance Festival.
Last Saturday night I experienced something very special: a night at the Vail International Dance Festival. I was in town for a few days which happened to coincide with opening night, which celebrated its 25th anniversary. In celebration of that, the festival featured a bill of repertory highlights at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater stage. We were privy to some of the finest dancers in the world, including Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, Maria Kochetkova from San Francisco Ballet, Jeffrey Cirio from Boston Ballet, Analia Centurion and Gabriel Misse performing tango, dancers from the NYC Ballet and best of all, a performance of “Serenade” by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, bathed in natural moonlight and accompanied by full orchestra. Each act had something both interesting and beautiful about it, either in the performance or the message.
Sitting in the beautiful amphitheater, surrounded by art, music and dance lovers, smack between the beautiful mountains of Vail, I was struck by a city’s love of life and culture. There were people who must come to the festival year after year and respect the Artistic Director’s opinion of who the most important dancers are in the world.
That person is Damian Woetzel, who has been Artistic Director since 2007 and since then, the festival has grown immensely and is considered a nationally recognized summer showcase for dance. He also heads up the Director of Arts Programs at the Aspen Institute, where he creates programs aiming to further the value of the arts in society, focusing on education, economics and cultural diplomacy. Among his recent projects, he produced and directed an arts salute to Stephen Hawking at Lincoln Center for the World Science Festival, and directed the first performance of the White House Dance Series, which took place in the East Room of the White House and was hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. He clearly puts a lot of thought into each act chosen to dance in the festival, based on his background, knowledge and passion.
The setting is also interesting because there is no curtain, it is totally outdoors and during intermission, we watched the Pacific Northwest Ballet warm up wearing fleeces, necessary in the chilly Colorado weather. Woetzel pairs up dancers from around the world with great skill. Some of them have never met or danced before hitting the Vail stage. He announced this being the case with the first act of the evening, “Don Quixote”. Choreographed by Marius Petipa, the father of classical ballet, and premiered in 1869 at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, the re-staging for Vail was performed by San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and Jeffrey Cirio of Boston Ballet. You never would have known they had never met.
My favorite act of the evening was the kooky and vibrant “I Can See Myself in Your Pupil,” performed by Jonathan Royse Windam and Francesca Romo. Apparently, it was his return to Vail, where he first performed at age 10 in a community production of Annie. And I loved “Gangsta Walk” performed by the hip hop dancer Charles Riley, who is currently a featured performer in Cirque di Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE in Las Vegas.
The Vail International Dance Festival, going through August 9th, is quite an experience, so there is still time to get tickets and go.
Monday features five new pieces by choreographers Paul Taylor, Larry Keigwin, Fang-Yi Sheu, Brian Brooks and LilBuck.
Tuesday offers a “Dance for $20.13” program that brings back LilBuck and adds Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild from the New York City Ballet, Keigwin + Company and others. Thursday’s main event is the legendary Paul Taylor Dance Company.
All tickets on the lawn are $20 each for every performance and offer good views. Food and drinks are served at every performance, and the menu is very varied.
All performances are at 7:30 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Prices vary. 970-845-8497 or vaildance.org.