VAIL — When Lil Buck isn’t performing or rehearsing, he’s still likely dancing.
“On my breaks and days off, we’re making videos or just jookin’ for the fun of it,” said Lil Buck, whose real name is Charles Riley.
Riley used to perform on the street in Los Angeles and even though he’s performed with big names like Yo-Yo Ma, danced during Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI halftime show and toured on her MDNA Tour, there’s a part of him that still loves to jook — a style of street dance that originated in Memphis — on sidewalks for random passersby.
Madonna even sent him designer kicks — Nike RT’s, from the Riccardo Tisci collection — for his birthday.
“She’s a really good friend,” he said, mentioning he needs to send her a present for her birthday, which is Aug. 16.
Despite the accolades, making strangers smile is still important to Riley.
“We go to different public spots where people are and make people happy by giving them a little side show,” Riley said. “It’s fun, especially when kids are out. I just like dancing and entertaining people.”
An over-arching love of dance emanates from Riley, pouring from the joyful grin on his face, and shooting out of each foot, which can move oh-so-slowly, and then bam — suddenly faster than one might think possible, all in the span of 15 seconds. It makes you love dance, too. Riley debuted as the festival’s artist in residence in 2011 and has been back every year since. Having performed at six of the 11 main festival events this year, it’s clear Damian Woetzel, the Vail International Dance Festival director, is still enamored with Riley. And from the clapping and whistling coming from the audience this festival, they can’t get enough, either.
‘JUST FELL OUT OF THE SKY’
On Monday night, the festival’s NOW: Premieres night, Lil Buck danced in two world premieres, both of which he also helped choreograph. He performed “Memphis Born” with his cousin Ron “Prime Time” Myles and Keviorr “TipToe” Taylor — the New Styles Krew. The piece was fun, with impressive footwork, and got the audience off their feet right before intermission.
But it was “Blooming,” performed with Indian classical dancer Shantala Shivalingappa in the second half of the evening, that was the real stunner. Centered around two chairs and performed to the traditional Japanese music stylings of the Yoshida Brothers song “Blooming,” the piece was playful and garnered a standing ovation from much of the audience. You can find it on YouTube in case you missed it.
The collaboration between Riley, a jooker from Memphis, and Shivalingappa, an Indian Kuchipudi dancer born in Madras, India, and raised in Paris, is just the sort of crazy combination that’s become status quo at the dance festival, thanks to Woetzel, who thrives on new, interesting pairings. “Blooming” came together in just five days, Riley said, and was one of two pieces he’s the most pleased with — the other, he said, was “Tabla-Ture,” performed Saturday night at the second International Evenings of Dance; New York Times reviewer Alastair Macaulay called it “the highlight of the evening.”
“(Shantala) is an amazing person to collaborate with,” Riley said. “We were so open to each other’s ideas, our chemistry was just on fire. We had our minds moving really fast. We manifested that choreography pretty easy. It just fell out of the sky.”
The duo spent three days choreographing the piece, and two rehearsing it.
“I hope it’s one of many performances we’ll have together in the future,” Riley said.
In the audience that night was Riley’s mom and little brother, who flew out from Memphis for the festival. They left on Wednesday, Riley said, but “had a blast.”
“Everyone wanted to meet them,” he said. “They were celebrities in Vail for sure. My mom is very outgoing, very sweet, and everyone fell in love with her. She enjoyed every performance, she’d come back stage at intermission and let everyone know, ‘you are amazing.’ It’s an awesome feeling having your mom there watching you do what you love to do.”
Audiences have one last change to see Riley perform — he’ll dance in three pieces at Dance TV Saturday night, the final evening of the dance festival. There will be a solo piece, another collaboration with Myles and Taylor and a duet with dancer Sasha Mallory, who Riley danced with on the MDNA Tour. Mallory is also an alum of “So You Think You Can Dance”; Riley was a guest judge on season 11 of the show.
“I found out Damian was bringing her and I was really excited,” Riley said. “She’s a really good friend. It’s going to be a pretty awesome night.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 970-748-2984 or follow her on Twitter @caramieschnell.