VAIL, Colorado - There's a quote backstage at the Ford Amphitheater that speaks to Vail International Dance Festival Artistic Director Damian Woetzel.
"(It) is so applicable to these two evenings," Woetzel said, referring to the International Evenings of Dance slated for tonight and Saturday evening. "It reads 'There are no rules - we're trying to accomplish something here.' (Thomas Edison)."
Woetzel spoke to me in a rushed, enthusiastic voice from the Vail venue on Monday night where he was still tweaking the program for the two showcase evenings. Meanwhile, he was also conducting rehearsals and logistics for the six additional performances scheduled between our conversation and the Festival's conclusion on Aug. 10.
The two evenings - each with a unique repertoire featuring some of the world's most respected dancers - indeed appear to follow few rules. Music ranges from Gospel to rock to classical to syncopated jazz.
"Some of it happens by chance, to some extent," Woetzel said about the lineup. "It all hinges on the Ingredients that I end up choosing each year - and they are such amazing ingredients. I ask the dancers 'what would you like to do?' And I also say, 'this is what I want you to do.' And then I organize it all into the flow of a performance."
The end result is two drastically different evenings of dance that span a colossal range of style. Only a few dances (including two world premieres) are repeated.
"Having two programs gives these amazing dancers a chance to show many of the things they can do, instead of one specialty act," Woetzel said. "My goal was to set a program that allows the audience to get to know these dancers in so many different ways on the two very different nights."
For example, the "exquisite" Sarah Lamb of the Royal Ballet will perform "Dying Swan" from Swan Lake tonight, followed by an act of versatility on Saturday when she performs Chris Wheeldon's contemporary masterpiece "Tryst."
"The two pieces have very little to do with one another, but she is magnificent in both," Woetzel said.
Herman Cornejo of American Ballet Theater also has a diverse repertoire across the two evenings.
"He'll dance Don Quixote on Friday night and then on Saturday, he performs Giselle followed by a solo to George Harrison music," Woetzel said. "It's a rarity to see a dancer of that magnitude show that range on two consecutive nights. That's what makes the evenings so special. We do this because we can - because we have these exceptional dancers who can change this much."
Sarah Dixon is a consultant for the Vail International Dance Festival. E-mail comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The rep and the range aren't the only unique aspects of the International Evenings. Woetzel prides himself on playing matchmaker of sorts. He uses the Festival forum to pair dancers from different companies who have never performed together. The resulting partnerships are often as fresh for the performers as they are for the audience - and many of them stick. The 2008 International Evenings-made partnership between Daniel Ulbricht and Misa Kuranaga spawned a global tour featuring the duo on stages across the world.
This year's unique partnerships include Festival favorite and Pacific Northwest Ballet star ballerina Carla Korbes paired with the Royal Ballet's Eric Underwood in Balanchine's "Agon" tonight. Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranaga will also coin two new dance relationships: with American Ballet Theater's Herman Corjenjo tonight in "Don Quixote," and with Daniil Simkin of the same company on Saturday night in "Le Cosaire."
The diversity of the evenings are intended to keep things fresh for fans who have attended for years - but are also meant to make dance accessible to audiences new to the Festival.
"We have the music of Aretha Franklin and George Harrison mixed on a bill with Tchaikovsky - it indicates such great range," Woetzel said. "And there is so much between Franklin and Tchaikovsky - (Jacques) Brel songs danced by Daniil Simkin, to Alvin Ailey 'Revelations' set to Gospel music, to the electronic music in Herman Schmerman. You can't afford to miss any of this."