The cartoon-like set of Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free fills the stage, the sun’s natural rhythm further illuminating its animated appearance. Cameron Dieck, this evening’s Bartender lights a cigarette and the orchestra warms. The audience, now aware of its spectator status, plays the part well. We are engaged, peering through the window and back in time, into the off duty antics of three sailors during World War II.
Made on American Ballet Theatre in 1944, the theatrical piece is a banter between musicians and dancers, a reflection of the ballet’s creation: Leonard Bernstein composed Fancy Free bit by bit, sending portions of the work to Robbins on records. The cheeky conversation continues within the work itself, featuring seemingly endless supply of funny quips, cleverly timed to a staccato flute here, a drawn out bassoon there. It’s hard to tell whether the music or the dancer is speaking first; Their conversation appears completely concurrent, as if conceived from one mind. Clucky clarinets voice the chatter of our bystanding ladies as they duck the advances of the overeager gentlemen. An extended snare drumroll draws everyone’s breath in, anticipating a particularly tricky sailor’s “big finish”.
Tiler Peck and her adorable dimples enter stage left, each sweeping battement more captivating than the next. The diverse personalities are evident, from the bold Daniel Ulbricht, to the sassy Angelica Generosa, the dashing Cory Stearns and the cheeky Marcelo Gomes. A truly theatrical work, Fancy Free is a delicious little slice of happy.
Up next, an all-star cast of George Balanchine’s Serenade. Speckled with premiers and a collection of companies, this performance fully epitomized the collaborative and fresh nature of this festival. Balanchine’s first work in America, Serenade is a manifestation of the choreographer’s greatest strengths. Indulgent tulle skirts illustrate the breadth of each chord, violins dancing, bodies singing. Colorado Ballet provides a worthy corps de ballet, giving pulse to the true heart of this work. The tall pines backdropping the amphitheater give breath. Balanchine’s expert designs offer structure and formation within a whirl of periwinkle blue.
From the moment NYCB’s Lauren Lovette takes the stage, her joy is infectious. Dancing this ballet for the first time since her School of American Ballet workshop, Lovette transitions from delighted to dramatic as precisely as the orchestra does, embodying the essence of Balanchine’s genius musicality.
Vail Dance Festival celebrates the collaboration of artists from all over the world, not only throughout the festival, but within each piece. Representing Beantown, Boston Ballet’s Misa Kuranaga makes me so proud to be from Massachusetts. I know, I know, she’s originally from Japan, but Misa’s ability to absolutely shine in a Balanchine classic alongside so many gorgeous NYCB dancers is a testament to her world-class ballerina status. Even more reason to be Boston Strong! Her technique is precise, every turn and jump somehow both wild and intentional, an impossible cocktail that left me stunned.
A star-studded cast of artists hailing from around the globe in some of ballet’s most seminal works. The excited energy backstage post-show was contagious, the spirits of young dancers aware of their contribution to a legacy tangible. Broadway and ballet combine for an incredible first evening at the Vail Dance Festival, this certainly bodes well for the weekend!