Looking for a reason to attend Vail Dance Festival two nights in a row? The second installment of International Evenings of Dance could not be more different than the first. If the first night of Evenings was a celebration of the century’s greatest hits, Evenings II is a comprehensive examination of where dance is headed in the next 100 years.
The evening begins with a knee-slapping history lesson, following dance in America from the perspective of Irish immigrants. Bill Irwin tells the story of “How The Irish Learned To Move Their Arms”, including demonstrations of each “melting pot style” with hilarious accuracy. I mean, who can resist well-done dance humor, especially coming from one as endearing and experienced as Mr. Irwin? I am not that one, friends.
Irwin’s presentation is the perfect introduction for the bevy of futuristic pieces to follow. Starting off with Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles and Lil Buck, accompanied by Brooklyn Rider, in Dig The Say was a smooth physics-defying feat that left me with one major question: does Lil Buck actually have ankles and/or knees?
The rarely-performed 1980 Jerome Robbins’ ballet Rondo follows, its paired down, casual style evoking 21st century minimalism. The live music is a treat and it’s nice to see a pas de deux with two women, Lauren Lovette and Devon Teuscher, even if the choreography itself feels slightly one dimensional. Taking us to another dimension entirely is the next piece, Scenerio, danced by Melissa Toogood and Herman Cornejo. Cornejo makes his Merce Cunningham debut with Toogood, a modern dance veteran, in this bizarre, extraterrestrial exploration of movement that extends the futuristic progression of the evening.
The modern vision continues with Toccare, choreographed and danced by Marcelo Gomes. With machine-like precision, Gomes is joined by the leggy Misty Copeland, who turns out to be a tricky little vixen in this dynamic and alluring piece. The entire presentation is powerful, with choreographic nuances playing with the quality of a plucky piano riff and a spacey violin vamp, provided life on stage by Cameron Grant and Johnny Gandelsman. It’s hard to look away.
Unity Phelan and Cory Stearns take on Balanchine’s famous ode to America in Stars & Stripes Pas de Deux to close Act I. Though likely intended, this choreography has always been just a bit ostentatious for my liking, but this does not keep me from being impressed by the skill level of these dancers. An impossibly suspended pirouette from Stearns redeems this pas de deux.
Act II begins with solo improvisation from VDF Artist-in-Residence, Michelle Dorrance. As the petite dynamo creates rhythm after rhythm with her taps, I start to wonder exactly where it’s all coming from. The audience eats up her talent, and I do too. It’s a remarkable skill to produce such intricate percussive movement, which leaves me with another question: is Michelle Dorrance actually bionic?
A contemporary exploration of the dynamics between dancers follows with the world premiere of Matthew Neenan‘s Farewell. Created this week in Vail, Neenan’s piece features a series of trios from VDF artists in examination of the relationships they share. The piece is emotive in a current and fresh way, and Neenan honors Leonard Bernstein’s centennial with stunning ingenuity. Newcomer Roman Mejia is especially impressive- the little ball of energy whirling around the stage as if announcing and affirming his formidable presence in the dance world.
Amazon ballerina princess, Miriam Miller, and a donkey-headed Cameron Dieck bring a bit of comedic relief with the Pas de Deux for Titania and Bottom from George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What follows are four completely captivating works of art.
The Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé arouse an entire amphitheater with an emotive interpretation of one of ballet’s greatest masterpieces: Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo & Juliet. The pair is completely enrapturing, with energy and chemistry to match the stunning Prokofiev score.
Patricia Delgado is sublime in the “Year of Our Lord” Pas de Deux from Justin Peck‘s Year of the Rabbit. Partnered by Jared Angle, Delgado floats in a series of circles. Like a slowly revolving star, Delgado is weightless in density yet heavy in magnitude, describing the heart of Peck’s otherwise lively ballet like the eye of the storm.
Vocalist Kate Davis takes the stage to accompany Isabella Boylston and Calvin Royal III in Christopher Wheeldon‘s This Bitter Earth Pas de Deux. Choreographed for this very festival on Wendy Whelan several years ago, this visceral pas de deux presents satisfyingly uncomplicated connection. It’s a bittersweet meditation on love, humanity, and life, executed with palpable emotion by Boylston and Royal.
Of course, you know what they say about saving the best for last. I was most excited to see reigning Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux queen, Tiler Peck, take on one of Balanchine’s best works with the lovely Jeffrey Cirio in his Tchai Pas debut. I had high expectations for this piece, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Not one bit. In fact, I think it was even better than in rehearsals. Ten-year Vail Dance Festival veteran Peck shines every time she takes the stage, but there was something extra sparkly about her last night. Perhaps it was the encouragement from loving coach Heather Watts, or that iconic soft pink dress blowing in the breeze of the outdoor amphitheater, but something seemed to be lighting Peck from within. It’s a transcendent quality that cannot be summoned on command. It just happens. And if you get lucky enough to witness that particular impeccably-Peck specific phenomenon, then you know exactly what I mean.
Don’t miss the rest of the Vail Dance Festival, continuing through August 12. Tickets here.