Vail Dance Festival In Review: International Evenings I

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Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns in “Manon” photo by Christopher Duggan

Community is the heartbeat of the Vail Dance Festival. The “International Evenings of Dance,” a mixed program spanning across two nights, features dancers and musicians from across the globe, culminating in an unmatched showcase of world-class dancing. Dancers gather from near and far, forging new partnerships and exploring different styles, all under the expert curation of Artistic Director Damian Woetzel. There is a comforting sense of familiarity between the dancers and the town. Each summer in Vail, Woetzel builds a family.

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James Whiteside and the dancers of Celebrate The Beat, photo by Christopher Duggan

What better way to begin the celebration than with a performance by the young dance students of Celebrate The Beat? The nationwide program offers students the highest quality in-school and after-school dance lessons, nurturing the innate tie between the human body and movement. Lead by American Ballet Theater (ABT) principal dancer, James Whiteside, the well-rehearsed performance brought an impressive 130 children to the stage in an energetic display with a simple message: The joy of dance is powerful.

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Catherine Hurlin in Don Quixote, photo by Christopher Duggan

From there, the evening took off with a bang, as ABT’s Catherine Hurlin and Mikhailovsky Ballet Company’s Julian Mackay took on the renowned Act III Pas de Deux from Don Quixote. Demanding technical proficiency and strong artistic flair, this pas de deux is no small feat, but Hurlin and Mackay display their excellent training with control and poise. They bring a youthful glow to these rather mature roles, taking risks that clearly excite the audience.

Next up, we received a preview of a larger work to come in Act II, Merce Cunningham’s Antic Meet. The short solo, featuring Pam Tanowitz Dance artist Melissa Toogood, was interesting, if not a bit anticlimactic. Toogood traversed the stage in an organized rhythm of small steps, holding a black umbrella overhead. The larger ensemble piece, danced by artists from various companies including New York City Ballet (NYCB) and ABT, offered more of this distinct Cunningham style. The live music, provided by festival resident artists Brooklyn Rider, was composed in a slightly unsettling disjointed style. The choreography mirrors this, with black unitard-clad dancers darting from one end of the stage to the next, injecting comedic elements throughout.

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Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns in “Manon” photo by Christopher Duggan

A highlight of the evening, ABT’s Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns twist and turn through the pas de deux from Manon, in their dreamy performance of the Kennth MacMillan classic. This pas de deux is celebrated for its romance, and these two dancers certainly delivered. Boylston’s impeccable lines and Stearns’ sturdy presence only enhanced what was clearly first and foremost a display of artistic expression. Their partnership was pure joy, exuding every aspect of young love, from tender sensuality to coquettish play. Sweeping, swirling, stunning.

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Unity Phelan and Calvin Royal III in George Balanchine’s “Apollo” photo by Christopher Duggan

A favorite festival partnership, NYCB soloist Unity Phelan and ABT soloist Calvin Royal III, took the stage next with George Balanchine’s Apollo. One of the most famous ballets of all time, Apollo is full of iconic moments, its sculptural elements lending themselves perfectly to these two statuesque dancers. Phelan and Royal have clearly gleaned wisdom and poise from Artistic Director Damien Woetzel since their partnership at the festival began just several years ago with another Stravinsky/Balanchine pas de deux, Agon. There is an obvious comfort between the two; Despite differences in their training styles, they emerge with exactingly clean, synced lines. Phelan’s portrayal of the muse Terpsichore is both light and firm as she approaches Apollo with a remarkably earnest will. Royal’s debut Apollo is equally balanced, displaying a quiet power perfectly suited to the role. Of course, their pas de deux is elegant and quintessentially Balanchine, ballet and story-telling stripped down to the bare essentials.

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Lauren Lovette and Joseph Gorden in “Giselle” photo by Christopher Duggan

Act I continues with this year’s festival Artist-in-Residence, NYCB principal dancer Lauren Lovette, partnered by NYCB soloist Joseph Gorden, in the Act II pas de deux from Giselle. This was nothing short of exquisite. Lovette seemed to float across the stage with her never-ending port de bras, hauntingly weightless as Gorden sweeps her up and away. This pas de deux is an example of what makes this festival so special; The spotlighting of incredible lyricism from a dancer who typically performs an entirely different style of ballet. Lovette has gorgeously danced everything from Balanchine’s spritely Tarantella to young princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, but as Giselle, she will take your breath away.

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Lil Buck and Michelle Dorrance, photo by Christopher Duggan

Festival veterans Jookin dancer Lil Buck and tapper Michelle Dorrance closed Act I in a collaboration with pianist Jason Moran, jolting the audience with an infusion of fun we did not know we needed. Lil Buck and Dorrance wove together a mixed genre work, with subtle nods to everything from the Charleston to the moonwalk. The piece felt like a conversation between all three artists, light-hearted and high energy, a breath of fresh air and a boost of serotonin.

A welcome addition to the festival, world renowned English National Ballet principal Alina Cojokaru joined ABT’s Herman Cornejo in Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody to open Act II. The pair performed with near technical perfection, but alas, the choreography left a bit to be desired. The grandiose score by Rochmaninoff begs for a series of climaxes, while Ashton’s choreography remains slightly underwhelming. Despite this, the dancing was immaculate, and the chemistry between the dancers was a real treat.

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Maria Kochetkova in Degunino, photo by Christopher Duggan

Another festival debut dancer, international ballerina Maria Kochetkova commanded in a made-for-her solo, Degunino by Marcos Morau. Outside the amphitheater the stars shone brightly over Vail, and the audience fell silent. This was the quietest the crowd has been then entire night, and with good reason; Kochetkova’s character was a curious combination of insect and alien, causing us all to collectively ponder the existence of this creature. Her odd, sharp movements were framed by an impressive exhibition of her extreme flexibility, without ever becoming over the top. I was still contemplating this piece as I fell asleep last night- the sign of a truly extraordinary performance.

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Jacqueline Green in “Cry” photo by Christopher Duggan

Alvin Ailey’s Jacqueline Green performed Cry, a boisterous Ailey solo. The piece erupted with pure fun and joy, as Green’s extension and strength wove the dramatic costume into the movements with ease. The piece suited Green well, her freedom of movement allowing energy to flow out from every fingertip, matching the upbeat music.

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Roman Mejia in “Fandango” photo by Christopher Duggan

The finale of the evening proved they really do save the best for last- NYCB corps de ballet dancer Roman Mejia took on a solo by Alexei Ratmansky, originally created at the festival for Wendy Whelan in 2010 and later danced by NYCB principal Sara Mearns. The Spanish-style solo featured live music onstage by guitarist Alberta Khoury, Brooklyn Rider, and percussionist Dario Natarelli. At just 19 years old, Mejia’s interpretation of Fandango made me question the fact that this solo was not, in fact, made for him, as he breezed charismatically from one impossible jump to the next. Especially remarkable was Mejia’s articulation in the hands, each finger separately defined yet flowing into a fluid, intentional expression. Mejia is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and a gift to the Vail Dance Festival family.

For more information and tickets to the festival.

the fishbowl

 

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“it’s not as easy as it seems,”
she said to no one who could hear,
“life inside a fishbowl,
it’s just one never ending sphere.”

“sun glares through the crooked glass
in a most unnatural way,
like the reflection in a mirror’s cracks,
or some dry, mishandled clay.”

“the light distorts and bows itself
invisible pinball,
once it drops, there’s no escape,
through mouth or thick round wall.”

“so I rearrange the furniture
and blow bubbles through my straw,
to pass the time, I play and rhyme,
guess that’s what living’s for.”

“no use in sweating small things,”
wait- can a fish even sweat?
“no good is born from worried ones,
there’s no benefit in the fret.”

she swam down deep then floated back
circling round and back around,
finding space in stagnant water
and silence in the sound.

red stamps

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she left her trademark
wet tannin-red kiss
like a map through the park
citrus wedge lower lip

her kisses a maze
on mugs, cups, and cheeks
puzzle-piecing the days
into ruby-stained weeks

story of summer
she imprinted the town
each kiss like thunder
hot, humbling sound

her breadcrumb trail lay
no storm could hide it
holding out for the day
a kiss cartographer might find it

one who read kisses
just the way that she did
smudged on cold objects
arranged in a grid

a new line for her stamp
curved and warm and sweet
she could set up camp
make a home where lips meet.

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the perfect summer weekend

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You know how New Year’s Eve tends to be a let down? You get dressed up, drag yourself out in the cold, get your hopes up, and end up freezing as the fireworks explode overhead and you count down the minutes until you are at home in bed. July 4th can feel the same way way- the expectations, the promise of a “perfect summer day,” the fireworks- and the inevitable disappointment. Nothing particularly un-fun has happened, but the build up for the big event leaves you feeling underwhelmed when the day comes and passes without a massive surge of extraordinarily good times. Well, this was not that 4th.

It truly was the “perfect summer day.” Followed by yet another pinch-me-perfect day, just when we thought we’d used up all the luck. A long weekend with my best friends in my happy place, complete with morning mimosas, ocean dips, belly laughs, and fiery sunsets. York even gave us a big, winding rainbow on our last night. What more could a girl need? New England Summer, you’ve officially outdone yourself.

the silhouette inside

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she whispered many magic things
to the silhouette inside
dangers of the outside world
like love and lust and pride

she warned her of confusing things
what might happen when we die?
and the strangely ever humbling fact
that elephants can cry

she shared with her the nice things, too
butterflies that flutter by
birds and bees and heeled Hermes
winged creatures who can fly

one lucky golden afternoon
the sun brought her silhouette outside
so they promised honest reverie
seeing eye to outlined-eye.

armor amour

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beetle in the bell jar
will you ever be free?
climbing glass walls with glassy eyes
an invisible sight to see

tell me what life was like
before it trapped you here
I’ll sit and blink and think a while
here, please take my ear

why not my cheeks and nose, too?
they could serve you well
see the world through my face for a day
and I’ll put on your shell

it’s dark and hollow in this place
you must not let much light in
through your shiny armor or
under your upturned chin

from the inside now I see
all the beauty that you guard
dewy mornings in the early sun
children playing in the yard

muddy fingers tracing wings
afternoons spent foraging
a soft heat melting gooey air
on which the summer birds sing

I see why you hide now
keeping safe in your deep shell
all the memories you’re missing here
living in a frail glass bell.

nostalgia

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Funny, isn’t it? How a place can hold so much meaning in our minds? A smell can make us cry, a crack in the sidewalk can take us back in time. A certain rock shaped like a chair, or a ferris wheel that spins too fast. All brush strokes in this dizzying abstract we paint over the course of our lives.

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Sometimes an entire town can wrap itself around us, weaving in and out of our pasts with a whole myriad of “times.” Good ones, bad ones, insignificant tiffs, overwhelming laughs. The little spot on the rocks where you told someone a big secret, the rocking chair where you said your first goodbye. Even as you watch the waves approach and retreat, though you know they are disappearing, it’s tempting to hang on to their imaginary immortality. Nostalgia likes to perceive perpetuality, even in the bold face of nature, as you stand in awe of her constant change.

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It’s an indulgent pursuit, to seek sources of nostalgia. Despite this awareness of our intentions, nostalgia’s captivating ruse can pull us in. The remarkable ability to find familiarity in something actually quite foreign; to chase a time long past. The human mind plays all kinds of pretty tricks, if you are willing to let go and let her.

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