VAIL - While the late Gene Kelly is perhaps best known for his performances in "Singin' in the Rain" and "An American in Paris," the dancer, actor, singer, film producer and choreographer is also credited with transforming the way Hollywood looked at musical films.
These career accomplishments, along with many more, will be celebrated Saturday evening, in conjunction with National Dance Day, as Vail International Dance Festival Director Damian Woetzel is honored with the inaugural Gene Kelly Legacy Award at the Dizzy Feet Foundation's "Celebration of Dance" gala in Los Angeles.
"This is a very special honor for me," Woetzel said. "Mr. Kelly was dance itself, he made dance out of the things we do everyday, he made us all dance in the rain, and the joy he brought to the world resonates strongly and always will. To receive this award in his name is profoundly moving and inspiring, he is a true hero for me."
Created in recognition of the 100th anniversary of Kelly's birth, the award will be presented annually to an artist whose career achievements best represent the innovative vision, creativity and lasting contribution that Kelly made, not only to the art of dance on film, but to the world as a whole, as an educator and cultural ambassador.
Kelly and Woetzel's paths have crossed before. When Kelly received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the School of American Ballet in 1992, Woetzel, then a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, performed Jerome Robbins "Fancy Free" as part of the celebration in Kelly's honor. He said later that he was beyond nervous, knowing that he was performing this piece for the man who had made sailors dancing on shore-leave famous in the film version of "On the Town."
"When I met with Damian this past April, I was struck by the similarities between the two men," said Patricia Ward Kelly, creative director for the Gene Kelly Legacy, Inc. "Both represent the epitome of masculinity and grace, and at the same time, share remarkable erudition, a strong commitment to education, extraordinary vision and a belief that it is the artist's role to serve as a kind of cultural ambassador. If Gene were alive, he would be extremely proud and honored to have Damian Woetzel as the first recipient of a Legacy Award in his name."
In addition to serving as the Vail International Dance Festival's director since 2007, Woetzel has also served as a cultural ambassador through his work as director of the Aspen Institute's Arts Program and a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Beyond the inspiration of his career as one of the world's foremost dancers, he is showing new generations of dancers of all ages how to move forward through programs such as Celebrate the Beat, while also continuing his commitment to dance and the arts in unconventional and evolving ways, including his recent collaborations with interntionally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Memphis jookin sensation Lil Buck.
The award will be presented during the Dizzy Feet Foundation's gala at the Dorothy Chandler Music Center in Los Angeles. In addition to the award, the gala will feature performances by dancers from television's popular "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance", along with some of the Foundation's scholarship recipients studying at Julliard, Ailey and American Ballet Theatre.
Along with Woetzel, Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine and philanthropist/entrepreneur Henry Segerstrom will also receive awards from the Foundation.
The 2012 Vail International Dance Festival will get underway Sunday and continue through Aug. 11. Visit www.vaildance.org.