Vail Dance Festival opens Friday

New York City Ballet’s Mira Nadon performs “Stars and Stripes” by George Balanchine at the 2021 Vail Dance Festival.
Chris Kendig/Courtesy Photo

There is no single show you must see at the Vail Dance Festival. It’s about the whole shebang. What began as an opportunity in 1989 to host the Bolshoi Ballet Academy has blossomed into a real movement spanning weeks, genres, companies and artists.

The Limón dance company performs the choreography “A choreographic offer” by José Limón.
Peter Cai/Courtesy Photo

New works are created in Vail, both in music and dance. Partnerships and performances between dancers who do not usually dance together. Ephemeral and interactive events in the heart of the city. Educational talks. Classes with masters. Events that are both performances and looks behind the curtain. The musicians. Artists. Fans. And at the helm is artistic director Damian Woetzel who, with a reverence for George Balanchine and an ability to see raw talent and nurture it, continues to push the boundaries of dance as an art form, an experience and celebration. The Vail Dance Festival is as much for performers as it is for audiences, and it starts on Friday.

Unity Phelan and Calvin Royal III perform an excerpt from “Apollo” by George Balanchine in 2021. Choreography by George Balanchine.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy Photo

Four guest companies anchor the program – Festival favorites New York City Ballet MOVES, plus three others making their Festival debuts: Ephrat Asherie Dance, Limón Dance Company and DanceAspen. Emphasizing disciplines as varied as ballet, modern dance and street dance, the companies offer an incredibly diverse program. To attend one of these performances is to gain a little understanding of each company’s repertoire, focus and scope.

Other performances mix excerpts and dancers from various companies, which has made Woetzel’s reputation. Opening night, international nights (two programs) and closing night/dance for $20.22 expand all expectations into new territories. Where else can you see a Memphis Joker, New York City Ballet director and tap dancing ingenuity and many others sharing the stage? The fast performance is driven by a unique energy that is downright contagious.

Years ago, the Festival started investing in new choreography, which can be seen in NOW Premieres. With this season’s program, Woetzel will have helped cultivate 100 new works from inception to completion. Including the music as well as the choreography, it is an enduring legacy for the arts world that helps establish the reputation of the Vail Dance Festival. Sometimes Woetzel seems to know a dancer is ready to step up in choreography even before he does. This year, most of the newcomers are female choreographers. While NOW Premieres offers a glimpse of new work, the UpClose performance invites audiences to look behind the curtain at how it all happened. Details and ideas are interspersed with dance clips to illustrate some of the “why” and “how” that goes into the “what”.

Caili Quan and Robbie Fairchild perform “Caili and Robbie” at the 2021 Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy Photo

Live music is a highlight of the Festival, first enriching and then helping to shape various programs. The musicians include singers and instrumentalists, including beloved NYCB pianist Cameron Grant. Composer-in-residence Caroline Shaw returns with a new commission for choreography by Caili Quan. Bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile of Punch Brothers fame collaborated with choreographer Justin Peck, and audiences can see the 30-minute piece at the final two Festival performances: NOW Premieres and Dance for $20.22.

In addition to all the appropriate performances, an abundance of master classes are offered. Take lessons with a variety of individual dancers and companies focusing on ballet, hip hop, tap, Broadway, general repertoire and more. Likewise, a series of educational events with the Conversations on Dance podcast will highlight several artists from the Festival.

Vail Dance Festival runs from July 29 to August 9. Visit for more information.

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