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.

DANCE for $20.17

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Lil Buck, Tiler Peck, Johnny Gandelsman, and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles in Vail Dance Jame 2.0, photo by Erin Baiano.

Vail Dance Festival‘s mixed bill “evening of dance for everyone” is nothing if not inclusive, and despite the rain, crowds flock to feel that inclusion. The evening begins with an extended version of the Vail Dance Jam presented on the first International Evening. This revamped edition shines even brighter than the first, featuring emotive vocals from Kate Davis and an ambitious blend of dance styles. Resident Jookin expert, Lil Buck, is especially enjoyable to watch, gliding through a sentimental solo with more vulnerability than we’ve seen from him so far in the festival.

Up next, an old piece with fresh faces: Unity Phelan and Cameron Dieck take on White Swan Pas de Deux with notable success. Phelan is so well-suited to Odette’s fickle, floating style, and Dieck makes a worthy prince. With her luscious epaulement, easy extensions, and apt emotion, Phelan is a true ballerina in the making. It’s exciting to see this star on the rise so featured here in Vail.

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Unity Phelan and Cameron Dieck in White Swan Pas de Deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

A revival of the 2015 Tiler Peck/Bill Irwin collaboration, Time It Was/116 follows, offering comedic relief and paired down interaction that seems to really please the couple sitting beside me. They are new to dance, and their audible reaction to this upbeat piece is an intangible certificate of success for the festival. I’m just sitting here wondering how Tiler Peck is able to chaine traveling upstage while spotting front. Sorcery. Bill Irwin is so talented and endearing as ever in this cheeky bit.

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Bill Irwin and Tiler Peck in Time it Was/116, photo by Erin Baiano.

George Balanchine’s Chaconne Pas de Deux, danced by Carla Körbes and Jared Angle, paints the stage next. The two inhabit the bodies of ancient Greek divinity in simple, fluttering white costumes. The rain has picked up significantly by this point, and the amphitheater’s funneled roof spouts water like a fountain behind the stage. Backdropped lights illuminate the water ad vivid flowers- the effect is ethereal. For a moment we are in a peaceful garden, watching young lovers swirl.

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Jared Angle and Carla Körbes in George Balanchine’s Chaconne Pas de Deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

The first act closes with two repeat performances, the first is my favorite fierce Agon Pas de Deux danced by Unity Phelan and Calvin Royal III. The two balance each other so well, it makes me wish they were in the same company so they could be paired together more regularly. Perhaps this is a good excuse to return to the festival next year! Another Balanchine piece, Tarantella, returns to the stage next. Lauren Lovette and Roman Mejia take full advantage of the opportunity to really let go this time, amping up the “friendly competition vibes”, sassy banter, and risk-taking. I enjoy it more and more every time.

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Calvin Royal III and Unity Phelan in George Balanchine’s Agon Pas de Deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

Act II presents Denver-based dance company, Wonderbound in Excerpts from Divisions, a collaborative piece featuring live music by Flobots. The performance reminds me of an extended dance sequence from an energetic musical, integrating a full band, quite a few vocalists, and theatrical choreography. The dancing style is sort of a jazz-contemporary fusion, with attention to big lifts and lyric-specific miming. It’s a bit of a flashmob-esque performance, and at the end of a long day, when the sun has gone down and the amphitheater has chilled down, it’s all a bit much for me. It does, however, delight the new dance fans to my left so, Vail Dance Festival Dance for $20.17- mission accomplished.

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Wonderbound Artists in Garrett Ammon’s Excerpts from Divisions, photo by Erin Baiano.

now premieres: celebrating women choreographers

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Cameron Dieck, Unity Phelan, Da’von Doane, Jared Angle and Liz Walker in Claudia Schreier’s Tranquil Night, Bright and Infinite, photo by Erin Baiano.

Though Damian Woetzel has presented female choreographers steadily throughout his ten years with the Vail Dance Festival (VDF), he decided it was high time he, in his words, “put a button on it.” Last night marked the first ever complete evening featuring premiering choreography exclusively by women.

The evening quite literally opened with a cubed puzzle of dancers unfolding like a kaleidoscope to begin Claudia Schreier‘s Tranquil Night, Bright and Infinite. Schreier’s relationship with the festival goes way back; After studying George Balanchine under Heather Watts at Harvard University, she became one of the inaugural members of the festival’s internship program in 2007. Ten years later, Schreier celebrates the centennial of the great Leonard Bernstein a year early, creating joyful, musically connected movement to his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. This piece is pleasing to the symmetry obsessed, the long lines of Unity Phelan and Liz Walker creating mesmerizing Rorschach stains. The two seep from the center outward, supported by Cameron Dieck and Jared Angle. Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Da’von Doane shines, his bliss ever obvious from the amphitheater’s last row.

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Patricia Delgado in Pam Tanowitz’s Solo for Patricia, photo by Erin Baiano.

The next offering is perhaps the purest definition of inspiration: as choreographer Pam Tanowitz and dancer Patricia Delgado shared a ride from the airport to the festival last week, Tanowitz was moved to create a solo for Delgado. The resulting Solo for Patricia is an upbeat, staccato conversation with music.

I attended the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island just before heading to Vail, and a few of my friends asked what my favorite new music discoveries were. If I were to name one dancer as my favorite new discovery here at the Vail Dance Festival, it would be Delgado. Of course, having a best friend who trained at Miami City Ballet (Delgado’s former company) I was aware of her talent, but seeing Delgado blossom in this intimate space has made me most excited to follow her evolving career.

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Jared Angle, Jeffrey Cirio, and Calvin Royal III in Pam Tanowitz’s Entr’acte, photo by Erin Baiano.

The Tanowitz choreography continues, with her offbeat Entr’acte. Named for a German term meaning “between the acts”, this piece shouts from the stage with brightly colored costumes by famed costume designers Reid & Harriet and unapologetic classically modern choreography. The steps are both irregular and casual, expressing a Jerome Robbins’ sort of vibe with dancers dancing for each other, not the audience. The music is a piece by Caroline Shaw, the festival’s first Leonard Bernstein Composer-in-Residence, played live on stage by Brooklyn Rider. Shaw takes the stage pre-show to describe this piece of music as a classic minuet taken along with Alice through her distorting Looking Glass, and Tanowitz’s choreography seems to mirror that. The relaxed quality of Melissa Toogood‘s movement transcends in Entr’acte; she and Tanowitz are a perfect match.

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Devon Teuscher, Patricia Delgado, Andrea Gibson, Lauren Lovette, and Miriam Miller in Lauren Lovette’s Angels of the Get-Through, photo by Erin Baiano.

Closing Act I is Lauren Lovette‘s Angels of the Get-Through. The collaborative work features another Caroline Shaw piece, described by the composer as a 16th century hymnal swirling around the top of a cathedral and falling in fragments back down. Something about this introduction really excites me. It seems so perfectly coordinated with the echoed nature of Andrea Gibson‘s poetry, which is performed live by the poet herself, as she weaves in and out of Lovette’s detailed scenes. The first lines:

when two violins

are placed in a room

if a chord on one violin is truck

The other violin

will sound that same note.

…describe this idea of our reflection on those around us. Perhaps it was my hour-long conversation with the choreographer right before the show (details coming soon!), but I could not help but feel connected to this ballet. I confess I am not usually one for spoken word poetry as accompaniment (I prefer “getting lost” in a classical arrangement) but Gibson’s words- and Lovette’s interpretation of them- are affecting. It’s no surprise at this point that I am enraptured by the first movement featuring an emotional Patricia Delgado, and equally captivated by the following section, where Delgado is joined by Lovette. In a segment of Gibson’s poem designed as a series of commands, calling her love to ultimately “come become beside me,” Lovette and Delgado are immersed in each other. They do not acknowledge us, but somehow we cannot look away.

Lovette departs from her first commissioned work for the New York City Ballet by exploring an entirely contemporary vocabulary. The next section muses on the frailty of human connection and our overriding aversion of interaction with strangers. Miriam Miller and Devon Teuscher are beautifully paired in this exploration of contact. All four ladies come together for a final movement. The girls lift up a wistful Teuscher together, Gibson’s words and their expressions begging her to express herself, to “be the Milky Way”. The entire cast strides forward one at a time to sit side by side on the edge of the stage. For this setting, in this show- in which it seems Lovette has taken to celebrating female relationships- this maneuver is wholly effective.

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Vai Dance Festival Artists in Michelle Dorrance’s we seem to be more than one, photo by Erin Baiano.

The evening closes with a 30-minute manifestation of the 2017 Vail Dance Festival. VDF Artist-in-Residence, Michelle Dorrance, is the choreographer/genius if not slightly loony conductor of her we seem to be more than one, the colossal tap-based work featuring a star-studded cast of festival artists. Dorrance reminds me of Jiminy Cricket, whispering into the ears of her dancers. They are her unstring-ed puppets, hypnotized by the percussive movements Dorrance seems to involuntarily produce. This sort of radical presentation is exactly what I hoped to see in Vail: James Whiteside revisiting his roots, Tiler Peck on stage in tap shoes for the first time ever, jookin and flamenco swirled into Dorrance’s style. Damian Woetzel charming Ms. Dorrance, Bill Irwin stealing the show. ABT heartthrob Herman Cornejo just tapping away! It is this sort of nakedness, challenging established dancers with a foreign genre, an exposed style, and an entirely original cast, that makes this piece exclusively “Vail”.

to infinite and beyond

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Remember when we talked about Apolla Shocks, way back in the day? Well, I’ve been wearing them for about a month now and I am completely hooked. I mean hooked as in, they are with me in Vail and I’m not even dancing here, hooked. So let’s get you better acquainted, shall we?

Apolla offers three different fits, and while the Performance (medium support) seems to be the frontrunner for me at the moment, the Infinite (maximum support) is pulling a close second. I got to try these out these guys in the black, non-traction style…

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A bit taller in the ankle, the Infinte Shocks offer slightly more stability and compression than the Performance style to relieve sore muscles and fight inflammation up through the calf. These socks will be in heavy rotation throughout the season as my feet swell and my joints take on more pressure.

All Apolla Shocks are anatomically correct, meaning there is a right and left side, making their structured arch support even more effective.

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Since receiving my Shocks, I’ve washed them an embarrassingly few number of times (less than I’d care to admit), but you guys, they don’t get stinky! I meant it. My flat shoes and toe pads are disgusting, but the antimicrobial magic in these things keeps them fresh for(almost)ever.

The Infinite style also features a bit more padding (or as the scientists call it, “knit-in energy absorption”) in the metatarsal and heel to cushion your base and protect your feetsies from the damage dancing can (let’s be real, will) cause.

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Has anyone else tried Apolla Shocks? If you are interested in trying these bad boys out for yourself (ppppsssst, they are releasing a new color soon!), enter code STB-ApollaDiscount-2 at checkout for 10% off, valid through 8/31 (wink).

 

all photo by Jenay Evans for setting the barre.

INTERNATIONAL EVENINGS I

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. 

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Carla Körbes and Jared Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain pas de deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

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.

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Jeffrey Cirio and Isabella Boylston in August Bournonville’s Flower Festival, photo by Erin Baiano.

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.

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Roman Mejia in George Balanchine’s Tarentella, photo by Erin Baiano.

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.

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Calvin Royal III and Unity Phelan in George Balanchine’s Agon pas de deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

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 KörbesJared 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.

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Joseph Gordon and Lauren Lovette in Jerome Robbins’ Three Chopin Dances, photo by Erin Baiano.

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.

Tonight’s installment of the International Evenings series is entirely different- and sold out. To catch these artists later in the Festival, head here.

upclose: jerome robbins

“Go somewhere you’ve been once before,” Damian Woetzel recalls the instructions of Mr. Jerome Robbins as Herman Cornejo took the stage. Cam, the pianist, prepares for the first solo of Dances at a Gathering. “I remember,” Woetzel’s voice trails as Chopin’s chords transport me…

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Herman Cornejo in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, photo by Erin Baiano.

…back to my childhood home, the sound of my sister’s Sunday morning piano practice drifting up the stairs, riding the scent of bacon from the kitchen and pulling me from a dream. The same familiar mazurka rises up from the orchestra pit at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. It floats through Cornejo’s sweeping steps just like a sweet smell on a breeze and I’m transported back again.

The first of Jerome Robbins’ iconic “piano ballets”, Dances at a Gathering marks the choreographer’s return to New York City Ballet in 1969. This meditative piece was made to be danced “for the dancer, as if no one is watching,” according to our host Woetzel, who graces the screen above us in vintage video footage rehearsing with Robbins himself. What a revolutionary idea, using the stage as a private space for the dancer to reflect.

The evening moves in a relatively chronological order, taking the audience through the evolution of Jerry’s work as a choreographer and dancer. This notion of the audience as an unnoticed observer is evident throughout. Even in his first work for American Ballet Theater, Fancy Free, a highly entertaining marriage of broadway and ballet, the audience peers through a window, as noted in my latest review of the piece. This evening we are given even more insight into those personalities, with demonstrations from Daniel Ulbricht the “Chicago Guy”, Corey Stearns the “Long Island Farmboy”, and Marcelo Gomes as “Mr. Miami”.

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Marcelo Gomes, Cory Stearns, and Daniel Ulbricht in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, photo by Erin Baiano.

The evening feels like an interactive ballet, with fun facts and bits of history tucked behind each wing. Damian Woetzel draws back the curtains, revealing intimate bits of Jerry’s working style that make us feel as though the choreographer is in the room. Samplings of Robbins’ work carry on with Ulbricht’s display of the fun “horseplay” solo from Interplay. We see some of Jerry’s more experimental work, with Lauren Lovette‘s interpretation of The Cage and Unity Phelan and Jared Angle‘s silent introspection in Moves.

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Jared Angle and Lauren Lovette in Jerome Robbins’ The Cage, photo by Erin Baiano.

Robbin’s iconic reimagining of the Nijinsky classic Afternoon of a Faun is danced with poise and savory tension by Isabella Boylston and Calvin Royal III. Through Woetzel’s commentary we learn that this updated version was inspired by famed Balanchine dancer, Edward Villella. Robbins happened to walk by the studio as Villella sat alone, stretching, noticing his own reflection in the mirror. The ballet emulates this experience, using the fourth wall as a mirror through which two young dancers find each other. The imagining of a mirror forces the dancers to completely ignore the audience and dance for themselves- Jerry’s favorite indulgence. The effect results in a ballet even more provocative than its controversial predecessor.

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Damian Woetzel coaching Calvin Royal III and Isabella Boylston in Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun, photo by Erin Baiano.

The evening continues with a tasting of ballets being revived this weekend, including Lauren Lovette and Devon Teuscher in Rondo and Lovette with Joseph Gordon in Three Chopin Dances. Displays of Jerry’s broadway works ignite Damian Woeztel, who joins Carla Korbës for a gang dance-off from West Side Story and Vail Dance Festival Artist-in-Residence Michelle Dorrance in a gender-bending tap section of Gypsy. He catches his breath as we watch a clip from The King & I and I start to wonder if the references to my childhood are somehow supernaturally intended.

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Jared Angle and Tiler Peck in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, photo by Erin Baiano.

As Tiler Peck and Jared Angle take on a pas de deux from Dances later, my nostalgia returns. Back to the home I grew up in, I am in the side yard now. It’s summertime. The windows of our old colonial are all open and my sister’s Chopin wafts outside into the sunshine. I am surrounded by tiny blue flowers, which I study as they bend in the wind, letting go of a petal here and there. For  moment, the wind pauses and they settle into stillness. Peck and Angle’s delicate partnering and soft movements describe this memory with an eerie similarity. In the upstage left corner the both suspend relevé. An emotional Heather Watts tells us Jerry’s intention to “distill movement down to nothing.” It’s quite literally breathtaking.

a slip and a tip for traveling dancers

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Summer and New England have only just made things *official*, and already this is the most traveling I have ever done on a summer layoff- hands down.

From New Zealand, to the Berkshires, to Maine and soon enough Colorado (more details on that soon), M and I have been zipping around this globe like hummingbirds dipping our little beaks in here and there and everywhere. In the process we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes travel more enjoyable for us. My biggest lesson learned, if you’re interested…

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