VAIL, Colorado --Recently retired as senior principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, Damian Woetzel brings 23 years of dance performance to the other side of the stage as director for the Vail International Dance Festival.
In his third year at the helm, Woetzel continues to introduce Vail not only to the world's best in contemporary dance, but also to what's new and now in the dance world.
Since taking over in 2007, Woetzel has introduced live music to the festival. He's pulled back the curtain, educating audiences with a behind-the-scenes look at the creation process during the UpClose series of performances, and he gave Vail front row seats to the world premier of Christopher Wheeldon's Morphoses. He continues to evolve the festival, capturing a wider audience base. Here, he dishes with the Vail Daily on his inspirations and aspirations.
Vail Daily: On Monday, Aug. 3., the Vail International Dance Festival will celebrate Edward Villella, a dancer you called a trailblazer because "he made the dance world safe for male dancers." What kind of intolerance did you face growing up as a male dancer? How did you deal with it? Do you have any good anecdotes on the subject?
Damian Woetzel: It wasn't always applauded. It wasn't met with universal enthusiasm in junior high school. Every December I appeared in the Nutcracker in Boston. And typically there was a small article somewhere about my appearance, I was the lead boy in the production for five years, and there was a public interest and it raised the red lanterns. Everyone was aware this was going on and more people were more excited than others. I think it was about growing up - some of the boys in 10th grade who weren't so excited about it were asking me in 11th grade if I was still doing those shows. It went through an evolution.
VD: Who would you like to see perform at the Vail International Dance Festival that has yet to grace the Ford Amphitheater stage? And why?
DW: I'm going to go with an unorthodox answer on this one and say what I am really looking for, what I'm trying to do more of, is a collaboration with great musicians and dance. So I would like to see Yo-Yo Ma out there on stage, in the dance festival, as part of a collaboration for a new piece or with the festival's education programs.
VD: You have a Master in Public Administration Degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. You served on the Harvard Task Force on the Arts and on President Barack Obama's arts policy committee. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the art and dance world today? What are you doing to combat it?
DW: I think the biggest challenge facing art and artists is the same challenge facing the rest of the country at this time - doing better work with less. But I actually see it as an opportunity, a chance for the arts to do something good in different ways. That's what I had in mind with those credits you mention in the question. It's not about arts for arts sake, but what can art do through education, like the local program Celebrate the Beat and its mother organization, the National Dance Institute in New York City. There are a host of different ways the arts can inspire and really facilitate great learning among kids.
VD: On Wednesday, Aug. 5, award-winning swing dance team Naomi Uyama and Todd Yannacone will teach and perform for the public in the Arrabelle at Vail Square. What other dance styles have you experimented with? What other dance styles are your favorites to watch?
DW: I am an equal-opportunity dance lover. If it's good, exciting and moving - I'm there. That's the wonderful thing about the dance festival, we mix it all together, and that really sets the light on the universality of dance. People have danced since the time there was people.
But I'm always looking at new ways to dance, and I'll become excited over a certain style. Right now, it's Capoeira, a dance that combines martial arts, games, music and dance. I had never seen it before, and it blew my mind. I had no idea it was out there. DanceBrazil will perform Capoeira in two different pieces during the International Evenings of Dance (Aug. 8 and Aug. 9)
VD: Name one non-dance person that has inspired or deeply affected you?
DW: It's hard to narrow it down, but I'd have to say the late Robert F. Kennedy. He is someone who experienced an incredible evolution over time, and I find that tremendously inspiring. This is a man who achieved very much working for his brother, some of his work was controversial and then his speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., how he told of it to a rioting crowd in Indiana through intellect, humanity and compassion. He has an amazing mixture of gifts.
VD: As you take up residency in Vail during the dance festival, where is your favorite place to eat and what do you order?
DW: I can't wait to get up in the morning, with a full day ahead of rehearsals and the great excitement of ending it with a performance, and one of my favorite parts is going to my favorite breakfast place, the Market Place on Meadow Drive, and having a big breakfast sandwich, reading the newspaper and getting psyched for the day.
Cassie Pence is freelance write based in Vail.