Sparing a few adventurous photoshoots and early morning hours spent writing papers (oh right, I am still in school huh?), my days at the Vail Dance Festival have been spent watching/fangirling rehearsals at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Seeing these artists pushing and playing and piecing things together makes me all the more excited to return the amphitheater (showered and trading Keds for heels) to see International Evenings of Dance I.
I have to begin with some serious praise for Damian Woetzel: Every piece was cast just perfectly. Perhaps this is the beauty of the Vail Dance Festival, Woetzel’s personal relationship with each dancer allows expert curation yielding a well-rounded show. Woetzel also highlights the celebratory nature of this festival at every turn, this evening’s adaptation in the form of an energetic opening performance by Celebrate The Beat. The colorful local organization features over 100 children, expressing themselves in boisterous movement.
The festivities continue with one of my favorite pairings, Isabella Boylston and Jeffrey Cirio. The two dance an adorably playful pas de deux from The Flower Festival in Genzano, emulating the August Bournonville style with clean technique and genuine chemistry. Boylston and Cirio begin by greeting Quartet-in-Residence, Brooklyn Rider, whose onstage accompaniment adds to the communal feeling here in Vail. There is a genuine, never saccharine, chemistry between these two dancers that makes me excited for what’s to come.
The professional performances progress with an elegant White Swan Pas de Deux from James Whiteside and recently-promoted American Ballet Theater Principal Devon Teuscher. Devon’s long lines just float on forever with Whiteside’s skillful partnering melting her over the stage.
Balanchine’s Tarentella quickly changes the pace, with its lively tambourine-driven rhythm and friendly competition from Lauren Lovette and recent School of American Ballet graduate, Roman Mejia. I’ve asked it before and I know I will again, but: is there anything cuter than Lauren Lovette? Tarentella appears to be designed for her, with its energetic footwork, cheeky head inclinations, and collection of chirpy pas de chats. Seventeen-year-old Mejia gives Lovette a run for her money, though, with a myriad of cheeky expressions of his own. The pair seemed to be having a particularly good time as Lovette took off on a series of pirouettes from fifth traveling downstage, Mejia egging her on from his knees below. The soon-to-be New York City Ballet Apprentice enlisted any and all forms of tambourine playing he could think of, striking the small head against a shoulder, a thigh, a hip, a hand, whirling up a clattering merriment that broadcast over the entire audience. These two just make you smile. Simple as that.
Next up, a showstopping Agon pas de deux from Unity Phelan and Calvin Royal III. Once again, casting proves paramount; Phelan and Royal are a perfect set. With matching long lines and unforced austere expressions, they weaved their way through Balanchine’s best sculptural pas de deux like a pair of gorgeous cobras. I was enraptured all the way until the final chord.
Celebrating the 37th anniversary of its premiere last night, Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody is danced with indulgent ease by The Royal Ballet artists Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambe. Equally satisfying to the diehard balletomanes is the impeccable Tiler Peck partnered by Joseph Gordon in Balanchine’s Divertimento Brilliante. Peck is the perfect music-box-ballerina- the delicate yet crisp dancing that childhood dreams are made of.
Act II leads in with a 6-count wake up call; Artist-in-Residence, Michelle Dorrance‘s 1-2-3-4-5-6 intricately weaves tap, Jookin, ballet, and contemporary into precise phrases of 6. The acapela piece returns the party vibes to the stage, complete with fast feet, gorgeous fluidity from Lil Buck and some face-swirling chaines by James Whiteside. The fun continues with a fast-paced lesson in the art of “the jam” with Doggerel, featuring Jookin dancers Lil Buck and Ron “Prime Tyme” Miles, vaudvile-style performer Bill Irwin, Michelle Dorrance, and the talented musicians of the Vail Dance Festival. Princess Grace Award winner, Elena Heiss presents a striking Flamenco solo, bringing some variety to the program. Daniel Ulbricht‘s sharing the stage with singer Kate David and guitarist Gabe Schnider in an acoustic version of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine further diversify the evening’s offerings. Misty Copeland and Marcelo Gomes command the stage in one of my favorite pieces of choreography, Twyla Tharp‘s Sinatra Suites. Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain Pas de Deux followed, featuring Carla Körbes, Jared Angle, and some of the most beautiful music ever written, Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im spiegel played live by violenist Johnny Gandelsman and pianist Cameron Grant. An impressive execution of the wedding pas de deux from Don Quixote, danced with bold artistry and altheticism by Misa Kuranaga and Herman Cornejo, finishes the evening with roaring applause, but not before Jerome Robbins’ Three Chopin Dances steals my heart.
Danced last night by Lauren Lovette and Joseph Gordon, this piece was new to me. The first of the “three dances” comes in the form of a romantic pas de deux, the dancers like saturated watercolors, both ethereal and grounded. Lovette and Gordon are like wet roses, dripping with softness, weight, and a delicate strength. For the second movement, Robbins’ defies tradition by giving the woman the first solo. This flirty piece hints at Hungarian character influences, with a casually traditional, undone undertone. The final movement begins with the male solo. Tender in nature, the softness of Robbins’ choreography further gender-bends here, a refreshingly non contrived take on role reversal in ballet. Three Chopin Dances finishes off with an even grander romanticism than its opening, sweeping me out of my seat, off my feet, and back around again.