Sarah Dixon
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VAIL CO, Colorado

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August 3, 2012
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Dance 'dream teams' in Vail

What does it mean to have a "once-in-a-lifetime" cultural experience?

Does it mean you're watching the best artists in the world?

That they're coming together in a way that they never have before, and perhaps never will again?

That they're performing in an environment of innovation, creativity and diversity that helps every artist achieve new heights?

Yes. Yes. And yes. All of these things will come together to make the International Evenings of Dance - scheduled for tonight and Saturday night at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater - two "once in a lifetime" performances.

While the entire Vail International Dance Festival is a celebration of versatile, globally-inspired dance, the International Evenings take it one step further.

"The goal each year is to create something that is completely unique," said Artistic Director Damian Woetzel. So unique, in fact, that Friday and Saturday have completely unduplicated repertoire.

What makes these evenings - a hallmark of the festival since its inception - so groundbreaking? Aside from the collection of world-renowned dancers, the fresh and diverse lineup of ballet, tango, hip hop and modern dance, and the unparalleled setting under the stars in Vail ... there's something else.

A signature twist.

"For these evenings, we are often literally creating new partnerships," Woetzel said. "We're taking two dancers from two different companies who, in some cases, have never danced together before. They arrive in Vail. They meet for a few days of rehearsals. And then they perform before an audience and in front of their peers - some of the best dancers in the world. There's a lot of pressure, but it's also a unique creative environment from which new and beautiful things emerge."

Consider it a "dream team" of dance.

It is perhaps this culture of artistic innovation that attracts the world's greatest dancers to the festival year after year.

"Damian's leadership and creativity can be very daring," said festival veteran and Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Carla Körbes. "It pushes your comfort zone as a dancer to come here and be challenged. Not only by getting to know a new dance partner, but also by gaining a new perspective on a piece that you have perhaps been performing for years in a certain way, under the interpretation of your company or coach. When I come here, I learn new things that help me grow as a dancer. It is part of an important process of evolution."

Beatriz Stix-Brunell, a soloist with The Royal Ballet, has been paired with American Ballet Theatre's Cory Stearns to dance Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. It is their first ever dance partnership, and Stix-Brunell's first time performing the piece.

"I'm very lucky that I'm dancing with Cory, he's a wonderful partner and a wonderful dancer," said Stix-Brunell. "I'm also grateful to work with Damian. His knowledge of dance repertoire is limitless."

And even Woetzel is taking a gamble with this year's programming. Under his direction, Körbes will be performing Balanchine's "Elegie," which hasn't been seen live in more than 30 years. It's one of four appearances she'll make across the two vastly diverse evenings.

"I choose the repertoire based on what I find most exciting, interesting and moving," Woetzel said. "When I read about Elegie and saw a video that was thought to be lost, I decided I would love to see it."

"It's intimidating to piece together a rarely-seen ballet by a choreographer that is no longer alive," said Körbes. "I want to honor the way that ballet was meant to be danced, but Damian has also helped me put my own interpretation on it. Working with Damian and Heather (Watts, Woetzel's wife) has been inspirational."

While the evening programs are not limited to new partnerships or pieces, every performance is infused with the spirit of the festival.

"Herman Cornejo will dance Don Quixote, which is a dance he is best known for," Woetzel said. "He is one of the world's greatest dancers in a piece he dances better than anyone else can. But even then, it's still a different environment in Vail. There's an undeniably unique element to every performance on the Ford Amphitheater stage."

Part of the beauty of the International Evenings is the sheer diversity of dance. The lineup includes dynamic performances by festival favorites from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, rousing Tango numbers danced by the renowned Gabriel Misse and Analia Centurion, and a preview of a new ballet choreographed by Brian Brooks and danced by festival sweetheart Wendy Whelan and Brooks himself, to the music of Philip Glass. Saturday evening's performance will feature a patriotic nod to the Olympics with New York City Ballet stars Ashley Bouder and Zachary Catazaro performing Balanchine's masterpiece "Stars and Stripes."

"The different types of dance that we get to experience and watch make it so incredible - ballet, flamenco, hip hop, modern," Stix-Brunell said. "As artists, we're all from different parts of the world. But we come together in this universal language of dance."

This year, string quartet Brooklyn Rider will bring an eclectic live music element to the stage, both as a group and with solo accompaniment to various performances. Their sound merges influences as diverse as folk, Mexican rock and classical.

"They are literally the musicians of the 21st century," Woetzel said. "They perform the exquisite classical repertoire we know and love, but also the most cutting-edge modern music. They are the most versatile musicians I know."

Playing live for dancers is an inspirational experience, according to Brooklyn Rider violinist Johnny Gandelsman.

"It's a wonderful experience," Gandelsman said. "We learn a great deal from {dancers}. Their sense of urgency, the rigorous training and the complete dedication to their art is enough to be inspired."

Woetzel sees live music as an integral part of the collaborative festival environment.

"Combining the forces of musicians and dancers is very powerful," he said. "It's all part of the synergistic process. They all arrive in Vail. Rehearse in Vail. Perform in Vail. Create in Vail. It's ... magic."

And isn't that what we all want from a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience? Whether you're a ballet aficionado, or new to the art form. Whether you've been floored by an Olympic team this summer, or have seen a symphony concert that left you speechless. To be able to say "THIS was different. THIS was outstanding. THIS I will never forget."

Now THAT is magic.


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 3, 2012 03:17PM Published Aug 3, 2012 03:10PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.