Michelle Dorrance in ETM: Double Down, photo by Tristam Kenton.
What happens when dancers take control of the music? Or rather, when musicians can’t control their bodies’ urge to dance? A collection of artists whose hearts must beats in staccato rhythms in whole body percussive movement, synchronized and not, creating patterns that satisfy the path your mind is on before your brain has the chance to reach them.
An upright bass sits center stage. Drums bounce around from their home in a set stage left. Shakers, chains, using instruments both external and bodily, Dorrance Dance‘s ETM: Double Down is a hypnotizing display of a genre entirely its own.
Developed through residencies at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Yard Offshore, and The Joyce Theater, Double Down is the brainchild of Vail Dance Festival Artist-in-Residence, Michelle Dorrance, and dancer/musician Nicholas Van Young. Using small electrified drum pads as trigger boards, this unique performance explores “the range of possibilities inherent in being both dancers and musicians”, according to Dorrance. It certainly brings America’s first street form to the 21st century, and perhaps even beyond, electrifying a historically acoustic auditory-visual art form.
Dorrance Dance Artists in ETM: Double Down, photo by Tristam Kenton
Everyone on stage is a dancer, and everyone on stage in a musician. Act II begins with hauntingly beautiful improvisational riffs sung by Aaron Marcellus, who uses a small device to record and layer his own voice again and again, creating breathtakingly deep harmonies. It sets the tone for what is to come: a stacking and stripping of layers. A symphony of sounds.
The versatility is astounding. Futuristic reverberations echo, hollow and impending. Quick taps tickle, joyful and bright. Conversational choreography emotes, proving tap can be narrative, too. Like the board mixing sound, Double Down blends contemporary with breakdancing, hip hop with tap dancing, music with movement.
photo by Christopher Duggan.
At one point the entire cast of dancers arranges their soundboard squares into a row downstage, creating a gigantic keyboard. Dorrance’s cheeky attitude peeks through as the lights go out and the dancers mount their “keys” in the dark, producing a cacophonous burst followed by an audience chuckle. The lights reveal the cast once more and together they tap across their keys, essentially becoming a human piano. The teamwork, talent, and remarkable freshness of this group cannot be overstated. Their bodies like soundwaves, a visual representation of the auditory vibrations they are producing, they never stop dancing. The focus is never entirely dancing nor music producing. It is ceaselessly split between the two, begging the audience to wonder why the two have been separated so long.
Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down, photo by Hayin Heron
Seventeen-year-old Fort Worth Texas native, Roman Mejia, is having an eventful summer: graduation from The School of American Ballet in June, performing in the Vail Dance Festival in August, and the start of an apprenticeship with the New York City Ballet later this month. I caught up with this charismatic newbie to see how he’s coping…
Kirsten: You’ve just recently graduated from The School of American Ballet (SAB). Was that bittersweet?
Roman: Yes, sort of, but I’m really excited because I’m starting with New York City Ballet soon, so I’m still in New York.
K: And you’re doing exactly what you wanted to be doing. That’s so great! You’re sort of the newcomer at this year’s Vail Dance Festival. How did you get involved?
R: Well, I was walking into rehearsal at the State Theater in New York and Tiler Peck stopped me and asked if I knew who Damian Woetzel was, and I told her of course I know who Damian Woetzel is. [laughs] She said, “Well, we do this little festival in the summer and Damian would love for you to be a part of it.”
K: This “little festival”, haha, I love it. And here you are. So what are you performing?
K: And how long have you been rehearsing all of that?
R: Well, the new Dorrance piece is being created here in Vail. I started the new Neenan ballet while I was still in New York a few months before SAB ended for me. After graduation I really started working on Tarantella.
K: So this is sort of the first thing you’re doing since leaving SAB?
R: This is actually the first gig I’ve ever done.
K: Ah, that’s exciting! A pretty impressive gig. What do you think of it so far?
R: I love it.
K: How has it been adjusting to the altitude and the reduced oxygen levels?
R: I was in Texas before coming here, and rehearsing Tarantella there felt so good. [laughs] Then when I came up here it was kind of a shock. And dancing outside is also a completely different story. It gets so cold at night.
K: Yikes. Can you tell me a bit about the new Neenan work you’re doing?
R: There are a lot of us in it. I dance with Lauren [Lovette] and Joe [Gordon] in the first and third movements, and then it’s James Whiteside, Misa Kuranaga and Carla Körbes in the second movement. Lauren and Joe are usually dancing together and I’m just a little ball of energy going around. The last movement is the hardest for us. Lauren starts it off, then Joe and I come on and we stay on until the end. It’s really challenging but the music is great so it keeps us going. It’s really fun to dance with Lauren and Joe.
K: Sounds really cool. What in particular excites you about Vail Dance Festival?
R: Coming from a school and having just graduated, coming here and being in class with all of these artists that I watch on YouTube is so inspiring. It’s incredible.
K: It really is. Well, congratulations and merde for the rest of your performances!
*Editor’s note: This is a retroactive post- Roman has since performed the pieces mentioned above with absolutely stellar success. To see my reviews of Roman’s performances, head here, here, and here.
Since arriving in Vail a week ago, I have been wanting to chat with Lauren Lovette. She’s a bit of a wunderkind, an enigma of what seems to be pure joy mixed with a whole lot of talent. I must admit, I was hesitant to introduce myself, not only because Lauren has been busy here in Vail- multiple performances in each program, world premiere choreography, the usual- but also because I love her dancing and was afraid of having a Wizard of Oz situation. You know, the awful let down when the curtain is lifted and someone who seems magical is just smoke and mirrors? Guys, chatting with Lauren was completely the opposite.
I was walking home from the amphitheater between rehearsals and the NOW: Premieres performance when I saw Lauren sitting on a bench by herself. My feet started walking past, but my breath stopped, and I decided to say hello. With her new piece premiering in just a few hours, I figured Lauren might wave me away with her friendly smile and leave it at that. Instead she told me to sit down and chatted me up for over an hour.
I decided to transcribe this impromptu interview in two parts, and include the audio file of our conversation, should you prefer listening to reading. Here, in part one, we discuss her introduction to dance, the surprising nature of her promotions, and how she’s opening herself up to new opportunities…
K: So, how long have you been in New York? A long time…
L: I’ve been in New York for eleven years? Maybe almost twelve?
K: Wow. So you’re, like, an official New Yorker.
L: I think I’m a New Yorker?
K: I think you’re a New Yorker.
L: I don’t know, though, because I’ve been on the Upper West Side almost the entire time I’ve been there, and I got there when I was fourteen, so I feel like in some ways I don’t know the city at all. But yeah, I’m a New Yorker.
K: You’re a New Yorker, that counts. Where are you from originally?
K: Wow, so that’s a big difference then.
L: Yeah, I’m from L.A. kind of area, Malibu Beach.
K: Was it hard to leave?
L: Yeah, yeah. It was really hard to leave. I was homeschooled my whole life, actually. SO I never left home. I was with my family all the time. And then I left for a summer program when I was thirteen, and the next year they asked me to stay and that was that. My parents said they would take it as a sign if I got a full scholarship, and my family doesn’t come from money either, so it was almost cheaper for me to leave. They paid for my room and board, my tuition, everything.
K: Kinda hard to say no…
L: It was hard to say no, so I just left. But it was a hard day. My mom, at the time, worked for American Airlines, so it wasn’t so bad. They could come in with free flights. But they haven’t been to New York in a while and I miss them.
K: Did you know about New York City Ballet as a kid? What was your childhood with dance like?
L: Not really. So, I got into dance because my cousin danced. I think I picked it up from her, I really idolized my cousin. She was four or five years older than me. My parents, since we were homeschooled, they kind of let us go and play with our cousins a lot. My family and friend like were one. [laughs]
I would hang out at [my aunt’s] dance store and that’s sort of how I got into it. I was dancing around the store and somebody saw my feet and told me I should dance. I think I gave some long explanation about how my parents couldn’t afford it or something, I don’t know.
K: How old were you?
L: I was ten. And [this woman] talked to my aunt and worked it all out that I would have free classes for a week, a month, and then a year after that.
K: And this is just someone who saw you?
L: Mhm. I have the dancer kind of bendy feet, and I think she saw my body type and was like “You look like you’ve got the long legs, you look like a dancer,” and I was Jeannette’s cousin so I think she thought I might have some talent because my cousin was really talented. I don’t know. But that was the first time anyone every told me I could be good at anything, so I was very excited about that.
K: And you obviously were already interested.
L: I was interested, yeah, I liked to move. I would always stand on my toes, even without shoes- I remember that. I would go all the way up to the tips of my bare feet. So that when I got my first pair of pointe shoes it felt good. [laughs]
K: [laughs] Yeah, you were like, “Wow, this is easier.”
L: Yeah instead of bad I was like “Wow, so much easier!” [laughs] So I think it was meant to be in that sense, but I hadn’t really thought about New York City Ballet until later. I just had videos from the library so all I saw was Julie Kent and ABT, and I wanted to be like Julie…
But there was this girl- my whole family moved to North Carolina when I was twelve, almost thirteen- and I saw this local student there who was amazing. She always went to SAB [School of American Ballet] every summer. It was the first time I’d ever heard of it. I wanted to be like her so I thought “Okay, I’ll audition.” I didn’t get in the first time I tried, I was really sad. But then the next time I did and the whole thing just happened. So I didn’t even really know what it was I wanted, I just knew I wanted to be like Sally. [laughs] And then I got to New York and I was like “Oh, this is really hard! This is crazy and everybody’s really good and it’s cutthroat.” But I liked the work so…
K: Spoken like a true dancer.
L: Yeah, dancers love it. They love the impossible. Come on, correct me a million times!
L: I think I was asked to stay around the same time I learned about New York City Ballet. So I was almost living in New York before I knew anything about what I was doing. Which I think is kind of better sometimes, because I feel like you can get kinda lost in how you envision your life to go, and then the every day you kinda lose. So I knew I loved ballet, and I knew I loved working in the studio, and I knew I loved New York City, and it didn’t matter what happened after that, so I kinda just kept going.
K: It wasn’t as much about a goal as it was the present moment and just doing what you wanted to do.
L: It was the present moment. Then I just got a ton of free tickets to see New York City Ballet every night, which I took big advantage of. I went all the time. I liked to go by myself. I would sit by myself and imagine myself doing what they were doing.
K: So from your experience at SAB, how was it getting into the company? What was the transition like, what was the time like?
L: It was crazy. I did my workshop performance and six girls from my class got chosen into the company, and I wasn’t one of them. They asked me to come back another year and didn’t let me audition for companies. So it was this weird time where I didn’t know if I wanted to dance, or if I was any good. I wasn’t good enough for New York City Ballet- I thought- because, you know, six girls got picked over me. I thought maybe I must be really weak.
I auditioned for Chautauqua [Institution Summer Dance Intensive], so I ended up going there [for the summer]. I choreographed there, I liked the choreography thing. I thought, “Well maybe I’ll do a little bit more of that or just move back home and just be with my family.”
But I went back for another year at SAB, just to finish it. When I went back to the school year and I was with all of the younger class. It just felt like failure a little bit. But I choreographed that fall, too, for their choreographic workshop. I think in hindsight it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me, because I went to Chautauqua and got to make two different works on a real stage with costumes and live music and all of that, it was really valuable. And then back at SAB I got a little blurb in the paper and Peter Martins saw my choreography. I think in hindsight everything went as it was meant to go, but at the time, I was really depressed and sad.
And then it was actually the day before Halloween- I remember, I had my costume all ready, I was gonna be a butterfly in class- and I got this call to go to a meeting. It was me and three really tall blondes. And I thought, “What’s this all about? This is crazy we don’t look anything alike.”
K: [laughs] Strange group!
L: [laughs] Yeah I was like, “I’m really the odd one out here!” But they gave us apprenticeships for Nutcracker, because they needed girls. It was…weird. I don’t know, I was excited, but also just…every promotion I’ve always felt this way that I’ve been sort of out of my body. Like it’s happening and I always imagined it would be this big moment, and it never felt that way. It’s always been very practical.
So I got asked into the company and I thought, “Okay what does this mean? I guess I have rehearsal tomorrow,” which I did. I didn’t need my Halloween costume anymore. [laughs] I was like, “Okay! I’m in New York City Ballet!”
K: That’s crazy, so the next day you started?
L: Yeah, they don’t prepare you or warn you, really. They just kinda throw you in. So, we were called like, “second apprentices” by some of the girls for a while, because I was behind the other girls that got in. But still in the same year, so…
K: How competitive is it actually?
L: I mean it’s not Black Swan, but it is hard. There were nine of us, nine girls as apprentices that year. So every time the schedule comes out, you look at it and you’re like, “Is my name on there?” We had every height of girl you could be, every kind of dancer. Girls that were better at long, slow, adagio things, quick movers, just every kind of dancer.
Apprenticeship is already hard: you don’t know your surroundings, you’re at the bottom, you think everyone is talking about you- they’re not- but you think that they are. You’re very self-conscious, and then you’re trying to guess what your boss wants. It was stressful and hard and some of the older girls would say, “Oh, you’re not allowed to wear warmups,” or “Oh, you’re not allowed to sit down”, which isn’t necessarily true. [laughs]
K: [Laughing]Power trip…
K: You find out later on…you’re like mmmm? Like you’re not going around saying that to people now…
L: No, not now. So I mean, the company changes every year based on how the older dancers treat the younger ones. I’m always really nice to the younger dancers if I can be, just to make them feel welcome. But that first year was hard. I think I had a head on most of the time, like some kind of costume with a giant face covering my face? [laughs]
K: That’s what I was gonna say when you were talking earlier about, you know, trying to guess what the director wants and it’s like you’re not able to really be yourself as much.
L: No, you’re trying to be something that you don’t know yet.
K: Yeah, exactly. It must be nice to now be able to be free.
L: Yeah, it is. And that’s how I felt when I got my corps contract. It was the best. You can only do so many ballets as an apprentice or else they have to hire you, full on. And they usually don’t have the money for that, so they limit what you do. You understudy a lot, but you usually don’t get put in. When I got my corps contract I thought, “Now I can dance any ballet. I can dance all day long. There’s nothing to stop me. I can do anything!” It was very freeing, just to have the validation, and the job security. [laughs] Like, okay, it’s not just a year- even though our contracts are still yearly it’s better than an apprentice contract.
All nine of us got in that year, which didn’t help with the whole “What does my boss want?” question. We were still all so different! But yeah, it was really exciting. We were all living in the same house in Saratoga, so it’s a good thing that we all got in, or else it would’ve been very sad.
K: Are a lot of you still in the company?
L: No, actually, I’d say maybe half of us are gone now.
K: Oh no, that’s sad!
L: I think maybe happier, though? A lot friends went to school. Dancers are some of the smartest people ever. Some went to Barnard some went to Harvard, Princeton, one is training for NASA. It’s crazy, dancers can do anything.
K: It’s so true.
L: So, yeah, I was still searching in the corps, for who I was. Not really sure if I liked being a ballerina, not sure if I loved the job. And then I got my soloist contract, and that was when it really felt right, because I don’t like staying in line [laughs] I’m not good at it. I’m not good at looking like other people. I try really hard, but it’s just not my gift. As soon as I was free of that, I felt like a whole nother dimension of my dancing could shine through and I could just be myself. It was a very validating moment in my career.
K: Did you see it coming at all?
L: No. I mean, I was doing a lot, I remember I had three debuts in Sleeping Beauty in a week, and I was learning two new ballets, [George Balanchine’s]Dances at a Gathering and [Peter Martins’]Zakousky for the Moves Tour, our small company tour. I was just flooded with work, I remember.
K: You weren’t really thinking about whether or not you were gonna get promoted.
L: No. I was just worried about what was in front of me. I barely had enough rehearsals for what I was doing. I think I learned Zakousky in two days. I liked it, but I was also really tired at the time. I find that before every promotion, you’re kind of put through the fire a bit.
K: And you’re kind of doing the work of both…
L: Yeah, you’re doing all of your corps ballets and you’re doing special highlighted things, it’s just a tough time. I think that’s when you know, I always tell younger dancers, I’m like, “If you feel like you’re gonna die, if you feel like you’re being worked to the bone and you’re not sure how you’re gonna do another day, you’re probably on the verge of something really great.” You just can’t give up, and you can’t let the attitude go bad. I remember when I got my soloist contract, my boss said he liked my attitude the most. He said he watched me from his office. So even when we don’t know he’s watching, he has a video camera of the stage. He said I always did every rehearsal full out, and he liked my spirit and my energy at work. So, that was a nice thing to hear from my boss.
K: That’s a great thing to hear. That’s super validating. All the work that you’re doing, all of the integrity…
K: Yeah, totally matters.
L: I tell other dancers that too when they start to get down I say, “Don’t. Enjoy the work, keep it up, You’re on the verge of something great. If you let it sour you, right at the cusp of something, then it’s not good.”
K: So did you feel sort of the same thing when you got your principal contract? That “through the fire”, or…
L: You know, it was weird. My principal contract happened in a way…I don’t know how to describe it. It was not what I pictured it to be. I’d had a lot of big moments, I had just done La Sylphide, my first full length ballet, and I felt like a ballerina, but my foot was in a lot of pain.
So I was dancing with an extra bone in my foot for like seven years I think it was, or six years- knowing about it. I was getting to this point where I felt like I wasn’t able to push the way I wanted to.
K: Because of the pain?
L: Yeah, I was in a lot of pain, I didn’t feel like a principal. I was taking it easy a lot, really going for it on stage but not warming up well because it hurt so bad. So I was really going through a lot at that time and a lot of personal stuff, too, in my life. I wasn’t really thinking about getting promoted, I was thinking about healing. I did La Sylphide and I was thinking if there was ever a moment where I might get promoted it would probably be after that, like, “Your big show! Maybe!” [laughs] But I didn’t get promoted, and I had my surgery scheduled right after that big performance, so I thought, “Alright, well, I’m not gonna get a promotion, that’s cool. That’s fine, it’s not the right time. I’m gonna go into this surgery, hopefully I’m gonna come back okay.” I had never had an injury before that put me out for a long period of time.
So I did this performance, got surgery on my foot and then two weeks later while still in a boot, I got a call to have a meeting with Peter. I thought, “Oh no, maybe it’s about the injury”, and then nobody was in the office. So I found somebody who said, “Oh yeah, go down to the stage.” The final performance of the season had just wrapped up and I hobbled across the stage in my boot, and my boss was just standing there in the wings talking to someone else. He turned around and went, [in her best Peter Martins voice] “Oh!”, slapped my on the back, “Uh, I’m promoting you!” And I thought, “What? I’m in a boot!” And he said, “You’re not surprised!” And then he left! He said, “Get a drink on me”, and then he just left and I thought, “That’s the weirdest thing, like is that real? I thought this would be a big moment like maybe he’d tell me all the great things about my dancing or what I’ve done or how proud is or just something…but instead it was like I’m doing this thing, you’re not surprised…bye! Go heal for six months. [laughs]
So it kinda did some weird things to me mentally, I didn’t know how a principal should be. I didn’t really see it in myself yet, and I knew I’d have to come back after all this time offstage and with a new title, be that thing, which I was already unsure about. So it worked out in the end…
K: Yeah, I mean, it definitely worked out!
L: It was just a different way around the issue. It never happens the same for anybody, so, that was just mine.
K: So when was that?
L: That was 2015. And then for about a year my foot was still hurting me after the surgery. I struggle with stage freight a lot and anxiety, so I was having a hard time. And then more personal stuff in my life was happening, so it was just tough.
And then around Christmas, my boss came up to me and asked me to choreograph, asked me to make a ballet. He said, [again in her best Peter Matins], “New Lovette: 2016. What do you think?”, and I just stared at him like, “Okay! Sure!” [laughs]
It was genius. It was exactly what I needed, that I didn’t even know I needed. Something to get me out of my head.
Stay tuned to hear the rest of our conversation, in which Lauren discusses choreographing, her experience in Vail and finding inspiration, coming soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wonderbound Artists in Garrett Ammon’s Excerpts from Divisions, photo by Erin Baiano.
Jeffrey Cirio in Comme des Garçons, photo by Erin Baiano.
Jeffrey Cirio is smart. Okay, all dancers are smart, but Jeff has that special sort of active mind. It’s the kind of smart where when you are talking to him, you can sense wheels turning behind his eyes between each word. He’s an innovator, with a unique voice and a determination to share it. Outside the amphitheater in Vail, he fills me in on company transitions, Cirio Collective, and his upcoming guest contract with the English National Ballet.
Kirsten: Two years ago, you left your principal contract with Boston Ballet to join American Ballet Theater (ABT). What drove you to make this change?
Jeffrey: I always wanted to do something else. At Boston Ballet, I felt like I was in a box. I was too comfortable. So I decided to just take a chance and auditioned at ABT and sent my stuff in to San Francisco Ballet. ABT was the first to respond. Kevin [McKenzie, Artistic Director, ABT] offered me a soloist contract.
I knew that coming from Boston and going to a bigger company like ABT, that I would have to take a step down. So there was this juggling of whether I wanted to take that step down or just stay in my comfortable place and keep doing what I was doing. I am a person who always does well when I’m pushed to the limit. I felt like if I did take a step, there was no wrong in it. It would just be an experience and if I didn’t like it, I could go back to my comfortable place in Boston.
I also felt like I needed more inspiration from different dancers. Being at the top in Boston, everyone was sort of looking at me and I was about to turn 25. I didn’t want to be the top dog at 25. So I took the chance.
K: How was the transition?
J: It was fairly easy, actually. I knew a lot of people in ABT, so that helped. The lifestyle of New York kind of came in a week after. I never knew I was going to live in New York.
Company life was slow in the beginning, but stepping down a rank, I knew that was going to happen. It wasn’t until the MET season of my first year that I felt like I was getting to do more. Then I was given the opportunity to do La Fille later that season, and that when I started to feel like, “Okay, maybe they do like me.”
K: And throughout all of that transition, you’ve been coming to Vail. How did you get involved with the festival?
J: Damian [Woetzel] asked Misa Kuranaga [my colleague at the time in Boston Ballet], to see if I would be interested in performing at the festival. I had always wanted to come.
My first year I danced not with Misa but with Masha [Maria Kochetkova from San Francisco Ballet]. We did Don Quixote pas de deux the opening night of the festival. So that was my first experience in Vail- in and out.
Progressively throughout the years, I have performed more and more here. My second year I started doing the International Evenings. Last year was my first time in the NOW: Premieres program.
K: How do you feel that your growing experience at the festival has affected you as a dancer?
J: I’ve always enjoyed coming because first of all, you get to see all these different dancers from their respective companies and dance with all of these people you never thought you would dance with. This year I am dancing with Melissa Toogood, who is a modern dancer, and we wouldn’t overlap in our careers without the festival. It’s always a learning experience here. Damian and Heather are very enthusiastic and helpful. Most of the years I’ve done a Bournonville piece or a Balanchine piece, something I might not get to do at ABT. So coming to Vail, and doing Tchaikovsky pas de deux for the first time, dancing with Tiler Peck is…
K: …a dream come true.
J: Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s always inspiring coming away from it all. And also I’m in shape for my season. [laughs]
K: That’s a nice bonus, ha. But you came to the festival in shape, because you were just working on your project, Cirio Collective. Can you tell me a bit about that?
J: Cirio Collective started three years ago. It was an idea that my sister, Lia, an I had. We’ve always wanted to have a project or a school or something where we could employ our friends and have fun and work during the summer so we could stay in shape.
We built it before I did my World Premiere at Boston Ballet. It all came to fruition in a matter of a few months. We had two residencies, Vineyard Arts Project and one was the Cape Cod Dance Festival, where we performed that first summer. We’ve been going back to those places for three years now. This past year we performed in two shows at the Ballet Festival at the Joyce [Theater].
It’s just been constantly growing from the start. We built it off of collaboration, and we like to collaborate with our friends and anyone who’s interested.
K: How many dancers are there in the group?
J: Right now it’s 10 dancers and 2 musicians.
K: Oh, nice. What kind of musicians?
J: A violist and violinist. We do a lot of stuff with sound mixing and a pedal board.
K: Is it all your choreography?
J: Mostly mine, but we’ve commissioned two pieces, one by Paulo Arrais, who’s a principal at Boston Ballet, and the other by Greg Dolbashian, who is a New York-based contemporary choreographer.
K: What was it like performing at The Joyce?
J: It was very exciting. It was a very stressful year, but I would definitely do it all over again. It was a year full of managing finances and paperwork, finding a lighting designer, finding a stage manager, and then making a full program. It was super cool, but stressful.
K: When did you start working with the dancers?
J: Our season with Cirio Collective is usually just in the summer, but I knew with The Joyce [performance] we would need to start before that. Our second season we only had four days to create something for the Cape Cod Dance Festival, and it was crazy. So I told myself I would never do that again. So I just started in January of this new year. Or was it November? Maybe we started in Novemember…
K: Because December is just a blur!
J: December is a blur. My dancers in Boston are doing Nutcracker, I’m doing Nutcracker. I went out to Oslo to work with Whitney [Jensen], and we made a solo.
K: So it kinda of came together piece by piece?
J: Piece by piece and then the two weeks before The Joyce [performance] we put it all together.
K: Okay so, you have any budget, any dancers, all of the time in the world: what is your dream project?
J: My dream project is definitely to have my own festival. It would definitely be Cirio Collective-based, so dance-based, but also we’ve always had this dream of bringing bigger and smaller name artists together. Visual artist, musicians, painters, bringing them together in something they would never do and just curating that. Just have all of these creative artists come together. That’s my dream.
[At this point, I thank Jeff for taking the time to chat with me, and turn off my recorder. Then Jeff casually mentions being in London next year. I gasp and press record.]
K: What’s up next, Jeffrey Cirio?
J: First I’ll do Mexico City, for the festival there. I’ll do Rubies with Lauren Lovette. Then I’ll go to Montreal to work with two Olympic ice skaters on movement quality for a week. After that, I fly out to London, where I will be doing a dual guest contract with English National Ballet. So I’ll be there for four months, from August to January 1. Then it’s back to ABT.
K: What’s on the season at English National?
J: Akram Kahn’s Giselle, [Kenneth] MacMillan’s Song of Earth, [August] Bournonville’s La Sylphide, The Nutcracker, and [Rudolph] Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet.
Looking forward to following along! Thank you so much, Jeff!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
Patricia Delgado rehearsing Lauren Lovette’s new work, photo by Erin Baiano.
Covering the Vail Dance Festival has granted me the gift of meeting so many beautiful humans, but perhaps none as sweet and humble as Miss Patricia Delgado. It was such a pleasure chatting with Patricia, catching up on her decision to leave Miami City Ballet after 18 years, dealing with transition, and opening up to new opportunities.
Kirsten: I feel so lucky to be here for your first season at the Vail Dance Festival! How did you get involved?
Patricia: In 2009, Miami City Ballet came to Vail. I had my first surgery about 9 months before they came and I remember post-surgery I went to see a physical therapist to help me recover. I said to her, “The company is going to Vail and I am going to perform there, so we have to get ready for that”, and she was like, “No, I get to decide when you perform.” [laughs] I had always heard about Vail and I’m such a Damien [Woetzel, VDF Artistic Director] fan- of his dancing and just what he is doing with the art form- so I really wanted to come.
I knew halfway through the recovery that I wasn’t going to make it, it just wasn’t on the timeline. I wasn’t even far enough along that I could come and support. I was still struggling. So it just kind of lingered as this missed opportunity. I tried to make peace with it, like maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. And then when I made the decision to leave Miami City Ballet…
K: Yes- you’ve had a lot of life changes recently! You were sort of raised at Miami City Ballet, training in the school and performing with the company for 18 years. How did you come to your recent decision to leave Miami for New York, and what has it been like dealing with that change?
P: It was a long year of emotional challenges, trying to figure out how to get the courage to do it. When it’s all you’ve know your whole life, it’s a scary step. I remember it was in the new year when I finally felt that leaving was the right thing to do. I had a great conversation with Lourdes Lopez, our director. She was so encouraging, assuring me that doors would open. Two days later, I got an email from Damian inviting me to the Vail Dance Festival. I cried because it felt like a sign that it was meant to be, and bigger things were happening for me.
K: Aw, and this is the start of it!
P: Exactly. And that’s what Damian said. He felt that it was the perfect opportunity to present me with this transition. It’s very special for me to be here.
K: Beautiful. Why do you feel the Vail Dance Festival is important?
P: Well first of all, bringing all of these dancers from so many different companies together in this space- we all admire each other from afar, but we’re all so busy. You can’t fly around to London and New York to see shows, and even if you did it would be a performance and then you’d go back to your hotel. Working in class with these dancers and collaborating with them on different new pieces is so inspiring. It’s an exchange of experiences and art. I think as dancers we can get so caught up on our own focus and what we’re trying to do to improve ourselves, and we forget how much you can get inspired by the people around you.
Also, new work. Live music. Studio space! It’s so hard for choreographers to make art. It’s not like a painter who needs just a canvas, paint and a brush. Choreographers need a marley, a sprung floor, live music to bring it out. There’s so much of that here, it’s an incubator to make new work.
Then there’s the nature element. We’re always stuck in a theater, but here we’re in the mountains.
K: It is so refreshing here. What are you performing the the festival?
P: I’m doing a pas de deux from Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit, it’s called “Year of Our Lord”. It’s sort of a meditative adagio. The pas de deux comes out of no where because the rest of the ballet is very high energy and quick, so it’s kind of the heart of the ballet. This space is perfect for it because it’s meant to be a 360 degree view, circling around your partner. So for the dancers, having pine trees and mountains in the background and behind the audience, it feels very circular. That adds so much magic to the pas de deux.
P: I know. So there are four ladies in it and she’s one of them. It’s us and Devon [Teuscher] and Miriam [Miller]. It’s been so fun working with them. We go from girl talk to working to girl chatagain. [laughs] What I like the most is that Lauren chose a spoken word poet to be our inspiration and our music, in a way. In the end, it turns out the poet will be here to perform live with us, along with a live violinist. So special.
It’s all coming together here. We worked on it a little bit in New York, but it’s really all gelling here. It feel so good to be part of something new and exploring new choreography.
K: Very cool. Will you be performing anything else?
P: On my ride from the airport to Vail, I rode with the another choreographer, Pam Tanowitz. We had met before through mutual friends but had never really gotten to know each other. Halfway through the ride she was like, “Hey, can I do a solo on you?” And I was like, “Ummm, yeah! Sounds good!” [laughs]
K: Ha! Amazing. So how are you doing with the lack of oxygen up here?
P: I’m okay! People warned me and told me to make sure and drink a lot of water. I was nervous because I have asthma, so I brought my little inhaler just in case. But any discomfort doesn’t matter. You just look around and it’s so beautiful here, it’s all worth it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Patricia! To see her in two world premieres tonight, head here.