VAIL, Colorado - Music is the glue binding it all together.
That's what Vail International Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel said as he introduced the Pacific Northwest Ballet at the first-ever performance with an orchestra pit at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail on Saturday night.
The orchestra pit was the vision of Harry Frampton and Oscar Tang, and it took years to turn that vision into reality, said Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation, the organization that presents the annual festival.
The Festival Orchestra was conducted by Allan Dameron.
And what a perfect performance to unveil a live orchestra. The Pacific Northwest Ballet performed exciting ballets, two of which were choreographed by George Balanchine and one by Ulysses Dove.
It's been two years since the Pacific Northwest Ballet, based in Seattle, has performed at the Vail International Dance Festival. Woetzel was excited to have them back, and even more excited to see them present a new ballet for the festival - "Red Angels," choreographed by Dove.
The performance, the second of three ballets of the evening, was like a ballet rock concert, if there were such a thing. Everything about it was bold and exciting, especially the live violinist, Mary Rowell.
There's no way "Red Angels" could have packed the same punch without the orchestra pit - the dancers may have still danced, but the chemistry between them and the violinist added a fantastic excitement to the performance that couldn't have happened otherwise.
Rowell played an electric violin that, at times, sounded like a fiddle and, at times, an electric guitar. The audience could see her curly hair bouncing from the depth of the orchestra pit, as the dancers, illuminated in red lights, danced one of the most thrilling and eclectic ballets imaginable on stage in front of her.
The music, "Maxwell's Demon," was originally composed by Richard Einhorn, who has described the piece as "a conscious attempt ... to transmute American popular music into art ... with a nod towards direct expression and to an audience steeped in American rock 'n' roll."
The dancers wore skin-tight red leotards and began the performance without any music at all. It was the calm before the storm, because once Rowell fired up her violin, the performance electrified the stage, the dancers and, most of all, the audience.
Balanchine's ballets were much more classical and elegant - the types of ballets one would expect to see. The first piece, "Square Dance," is a creative combination of classical ballet, 17th-century court dance and American country dancing.
Male and female dancers performed some of the most elegant and beautiful line dances you've ever seen - the resemblance to American country dancing was subtle, but enough that you could appreciate where the inspiration for this ballet came from.
The performance ended with Balanchine's "Serenade" - a ballet this company performed in Vail in 2008.
The ballet was the first work that Balanchine created for American dancers. It features more than 20 dancers entering and leaving the stage throughout the performance.
It ends with three male dancers carrying the principal ballerina high in the air as they exit the stage - a perfect and dramatic ending to a fantastic evening of dance.