Vail Dance Festival in Review: International Evenings II

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Isabella Boylston in Flower Festival in Genzano, photo by Christopher Duggan

When international stars of ballet gather in the beautiful bubble of a town that is Vail, magic is bound to happen. The second night of Vail Dance Festival’s “International Evenings” certainly saw magical moments, with crowd-pleasing highlights feathered throughout.

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Catherine Hurlin and Lil Buck in Vail Dance Jam, photo by Christopher Duggan

This Festival wastes no time waiting to be festive; The show erupted with an epic opener, “Vail Dance Jam,” a collaboration between the dancers, musicians, and choreographers of the festival. The music was wonderfully rollicking, setting the tone for more fun to come.

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Melissa Toogood and Calvin Royal III in Trails, photo by Christopher Duggan

The first act continued with a series of pas de deuxs: first a very sweet Flower Festival in Genzano from American Ballet Theater (ABT)’s Isabella Boylston and Mikhailovsky Theatre’s Julian Mackay, followed by an other-worldly Merce Cunningham excerpt from Trails danced in beautiful sync despite the music’s irregular rhythm by ABT’s Calvin Royal III and Melissa Toogood, and finally La Sylphide, performed by Festival newcomer Maria Kochetkova and New York City Ballet (NYCB)’s Joseph Gorden. The August Bournonville style (showcased here in Flower Festival and La Sylphide) can be quite academic-looking, but the joining of these incredible artists has proved once again that Vail Dance Festival is a breeding ground for growth and exploration.

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Jacqueline Green in Pas de Duke, photo by Christopher Duggan

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green wowed the crowd in another Ailey solo, this time to Duke Ellington’s vivacious music in an excerpt from Pas de Duke. She moved with crisp, clear confidence, hitting every step so full out it was as if she was making the music with her body.

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Alina Cojocaru and Herman Cornejo in Romeo & Juliet, photo by Christopher Duggan

The first half closed with a real stand out performance- English National Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru and ABT’s Herman Cornejo in the Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo & Juliet. Wow. This had me on the edge of my seat, waiting on every effortless lift, exquisite pirouette, and nuanced breath. In this pairing, the audience received true artistic and technical expertise, a cosmic meeting of dancers and musicians that is rarely found. Cojocaru simply is the music; Her innate ability to make her audience hear every note in the score cannot be taught. What a treat.

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Festival Artists in The Personal Element, photo by Christopher Duggan

Act II opens with another peak; the world premiere of Alonzo King’s The Personal Element. This mesmerizing ensemble collected dancers from LINES Ballet and New York City Ballet in a whirlwind of sweeping movement, King’s choreography seamlessly sculpting the dancers into every formation imaginable. The dancers split into pairs and then join back together, zipping up into miniature tornados of movement and then melting back down into the music, a hypnotic score composed and played live by the incomparable Jason Moran.

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Lauren Lovette and James Whiteside in George Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, photo by Christopher Duggan

The evening continued with two more pas de deuxs, this time featuring this year’s Artist-in-Residence, Lauren Lovette, and ABT’s James Whiteside in George Balanchine’s playful Duo Concertant followed by the calm and refreshingly human The Still Point, danced by ABT’s Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns. The latter offers the delicate study of a relationship, both passionate and comfortable, conflicting and familiar. The former celebrates yet another Festival partnering win, Lovette and Whiteside’s spritely energy and effortless musicality combining just perfectly in this seemingly made-for-them ballet.

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Lil Buck, Michelle Dorrance, James Whiteside, and Melissa Toogood in 1-2-3-4-5-6, photo by Christopher Duggan

A Festival favorite 1-2-3-4-5-6 closed the performance, jolting the amphitheater with a tangible energy only the dream team of Michelle Dorrance, Lil Buck, Melissa Toogood, and James Whiteside can serve up. This mixed-genre piece showcases the diverse talents of the artists, as they perform their own choreography and improvography while still maintaining a cohesive and all too fun to follow work of art.

For more information on the Vail Dance Festival.

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.

hot town, summer in the city

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It’s been a whole month (!) since Swan Lake. Several days after the final performance, The Great Flu of ’19 knocked me down for 2 weeks and well, you could say I ran out of steam. My annual lofty goals to “keep dancing all summer” fizzled under piles of tissues, and needless to say, I’ve been looking for motivation to get back into the studio ever since. Well guys, I think I might have just found it…

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We know the magic of Zarely’s super soft tights (I love the recovery compression tights for going out after a performance when my legs need a little love!) and elevated activewear, but did you know they recently released two leotards? Well, listen up. I’m out here shouting it from the rooftops.

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Have I peaked your curiosity? Okay, the review…

In keeping with Zarely’s design style, the Alicia leotard is cut to flatter. I was worried about her higher neckline, but the material (made in Italy) hugs so nicely. The lining is soft but effective- trust a busty ballerina to give you an honest assessment when it comes to support that doesn’t strangle you.

The base fabric is  thick enough to smooth things out without puffing up, but I think my favorite feature is the mesh panel…

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The designers at Zarely pay special attention to lines when creating each piece, and woah baby, it pays off. I’m not typically one for wearing mesh on the front of my torso, but this leotard dips a toe into the trend without being over the top. I’m a fan.

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So, what do you think?! If you’re interested in trying out one of Zarely‘s new leo’s (or any of their well-made dancewear) and want a little discount, use code KIRSTENZARELY for 20% off at checkout.

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photos by Jenay Evans for STB.

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The life of a twenty-first century ballerina often means jumping from one persona to the next, out of pointe shoes and into socks, tattered technique shoes, bare feet and bruises. For three hours we are bunheaded and floating, while the next three have us rolling through the floor, hair and hips flying loose and low.

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Of course, this can wreak havoc on the structure of the ever-important feet and ankles, dramatic shifts in positioning and pressure causing all kinds of inflammation, irritation, and injury. Our February program jumps from balletic Serenade to apocalyptic Smoke & Mirrors and creature-like Coma, and all I can say is THANK YOU, SHOCKS.

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With compression in the arch and ankle, the Performance Shocks from Apolla are saving my feet. They hug just the right areas to provide support and protection, while still allowing the toes to shape and the heel to ground into the floor.

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Before a long day in pointe shoes, (my feet and) I love taking barre in my Apolla’s. They give me the perfect lift without being restricting or bulky. Ah, can a person truly love a pair of socks, you ask? I’ve rambled on and on about all of their many benefits, but for now let’s check out some close up glam shots and find out how well they really perform…

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Oooooh, aaahhhhh. Who knew a pair of socks could make me feel some kinda way? If you’re looking for a date this Valentine’s Day, might I recommend a fresh pair of Performance Shocks? Just kidding…kind of.

In you’re interested, Apolla is offering a discount to STB readers! Use the code SETTING*THE*BARRE19 for 10% off at checkout.

All photos by Jenay Evans for STB.

that’s a wrap

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Two weeks from today marks opening night of Nutcracker and the first official day of winter. But dancers know Nutcracker season is already in full swing, and New Englanders (or other cold-weather-dwellers) know winter has indeed arrived.

Early sunsets and extended studio hours make for chilly ballerinas. Luckily, my absolute favorite dancewear brand, RubiaWear, has us covered. Literally. Hehe.

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I firmly believe everything Ashley Ellis touches turns to gold. The RubiaWear creator and Boston Ballet principal dancer has been growing her collection of ultra-soft and flattering warm ups (which began as a range of legwarmers), and I am all about it. I’ve waxed poetic on the perfection of Rubia legwarmers in the past, but have I introduced you to the Cora wrap?

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Made from the softest fabric in a rainbow of color options, the Cora is cut to the perfect long-enough-to-warm-you-up but short-enough-to-keep-things-light way that Ashley’s designs seem to nail every time. The cozy wrap multitasks as much as its maker, lending itself to a whole gamut of various functions. While I tend to wear it doubled up around my hips, I’ve also been known to circle it around my neck when my shoulders feel stiff, or blanket it over my knees backstage.

Versatility, coziness, and a ballerina-run business. Win, win, win, as they say.

Curious about Cora? Check out my chat with Ashley here and browse the full RubiaWear line here.

perform and protect

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Every year around the first week of November, my calendar fills up with acupuncture appointments and ice baths. My heating pad fires up multiple times a day, I sit down whenever possible, and when standing is a necessity, I consciously shift weight back and forth between my two legs to avoid (or let’s be honest, delay) the eminent burn out of my left calf muscle. That’s right, Nutcracker Season is upon us and my left leg is feeeeeeling it.

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If you have danced any variation of the “traditional” Petipa version of Grand Pas (affectionately referred to as Grandpa), you know what I mean. Each and every section of the 15 minute pas de deux- from adagio to coda- seems to depend heavily on the strength of the left leg. It’s the supporting leg in every pirouette, promenade, and balance and by the last cymbal crash, that baby is screaming.

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Swooping in to give my left calf any chance of survival this season, my favorite compression-tech dancewear brand, Apolla, sent over one of their newest products to save the day. The K-warmer (short for Kinesio) is made with a tight-knit to provide targeted compression to sore leg muscles. The special weave encourages circulation, which reduces inflammation and lowers the risk of injury. It’s sort of like having a personal physical therapist following your sore legs around, wrapping tape where you need support and applying pressure where you need blood flow.

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I love that the K-warmer provides support while still allowing my body to perform at its full range of motion. The warmers (which come in a set) can be extended for full leg coverage, but I like to double up on the squeeze-factor by folding one down around my calf for an extra warm hug. On particularly long days, I keep my K-warmers on when I leave the studio, so they can keep working their magic while my body transitions into rest mode. Performance and protection, double whammy! They are also antimicrobial (aka not stinky), sleek fitting (hello tutu time), and dancer approved.

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I really do swear by all of Apolla’s products and wear them daily. You guys know, I only work with brands that I genuinely love and think you will, too! If you want to get your hands on/legs in a pair of K-warmers, use code STB-ApollaDiscount-4 for 10% off at checkout.

PS- this is not an affiliate code- I don’t make any money from this, just want to spread the love and help you survive Nutcracker Season! Code is valid through November 22, 2018. xx

CLOSING EVENING: BALLET X

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Damian Woetzel, Artistic Director of Vail Dance Festival, photo by Erin Baiano.

On the last day of the Vail Dance Festival, I decide it’s high time I did a little dancing myself. Ballet X Artistic Director, Christine Cox, graciously welcomes me into the company class at the amphitheater. It’s been…a while since I’ve taken classes regularly (#summerslacking), but Christine’s class is exactly what I need. When Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” comes on for frappés- I know for sure I am in the right place.

Cox emphasizes the importance of dancing as a conversation with your body. The impetus on freedom of movement feels liberating compared to the strict ballet classes I am used to. Not only is taking class with Ballet X refreshing for my body, but it also makes me even more excited for their performance that evening. Closing the Vail Dance Festival is an ambitious task, but this Philadelphia-based contemporary ballet company delivers.

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Chloe Perkes and Zachary Kapeluck in Jodie Gates’ Beautiful Once, photo by Erin Baiano.

While the opening piece, Jodie GatesBeautiful Once missed the mark (slightly dated costumes and choreography, and a surprisingly sloppy execution), the next ballet absolutely redeemed the evening. Cayetano Soto‘s Schachmatt, was creative and original. Meaning “checkmate” in German, Schachmatt, proves that dance need not be heavy and emotional to be powerful. The dancers are like chess pieces, unified in black and grey jockey attire, moving in unison to fun mid-century music that sounds like it could soundtrack an exotic vacation for James Bond. The movements are provocative in a light hearted way, which is entirely refreshing in the world of drama-focused 21st century choreographers. Soto’s choreography is distinguished without taking itself too seriously, a rare combination that highlights this company so well.

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Ballet X in Cayetano Soto’s Schachmatt, photo by Erin Baiano.

Act II presents Matthew Neenan‘s The Last Glass, an indulgent ballet set to the cinematic music of Beirut. I get such fuzzy feelings when I listen to Beirut; It’s as if I’m standing in the middle of a colorful circus- feathers and sequins and laughing faces whirling by- but at the center, where I stand, it is actually quite lonely. Neenan’s choreography reflects the generous use of horns with carnival-like characters, but also the sorrow of Beirut’s vocals. It’s an impressive layering of tone, and the dancers of Ballet X  are exceptional in their ability to illustrate this intricacy.

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Richard Villacerde and Ballet X in Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass, photo by Erin Baiano.

The closing evening of the Vail Dance Festival is made even more poignant in its marking of Richard Villaverde‘s last performance with Ballet X. The audience received his final bows with the company (he is on to pursue dancing in New York City) with warm, riotous applause. It was a small demonstration of our appreciation for every evening of brilliant art brought to this stage in the past 2 weeks, if such gratitude can even be measured in applause.