Vail is a place where new dances are choreographed; where pieces long in progress are premiered; and where dancers come together for the very first time. That’s the reputation that Vail International Dance festival director Damian Woetzel has cultivated during his tenure, and one of the reasons the festival has become known as one of the most renowned summer festivals in the world and has been widely acclaimed for its innovation. Time and again in interviews with the Vail Daily, Woetzel has talked about wanting to present performances that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.
This year is no exception and Friday night, at one of the festival’s most popular programs, International Evenings of Dance, four out of 14 pieces on the program will match up dancers who have never performed together.
Tiler Peck, a New York City Ballet ballerina, will perform with jookin’ star Lil Buck in a piece Woetzel himself choreographed along with Lil Buck called “Budget Bulgar.”
“I am very excited to attempt jookin’ as a ballerina on pointe,” Peck said with a playful smile. “It is a very unique piece because its Memphis Jookin and ballet meets ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’”
It might seem odd to pair a ballerina with a street dancer, but Peck sees more similarities between the two styles than you’d guess.
“Since Lil Buck dances mostly on his toes, his type of dancing is actually more related to ballet and pointe work than one would think,” said Peck, who along with her fiancé Robert Fairchild, also a New York City Ballet principal dancer, is serving as this festivals artist in residence, which means she performs nearly every day of the festival.
And for another first, “Budget Bulgar” marks the first time Peck will perform something Woetzel has choregraphed, she said.
Lil Buck and Peck have been working with Woetzel to learn the piece during three rehearsals that took place earlier this week.
“Lil Buck and I have been having a blast since day one,” Peck said. “At first I was a little intimidated to dance a style he has mastered, right next to him. However, he has been really encouraging and actually told me ‘You should really take on jookin.’ Ha! I think he was just being nice.”
Peck and Polunin
Peck will also perform in the very last piece of the evening, with Sergei Polunin of the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet. The two will perform “Le Corsaire” Act II Pas de Deux.
“I actually have not only never danced with Sergei but have also never even met him,” Peck said. “(Thursday) will be our first rehearsal.”
A former principal dancer with the British Royal Ballet (the youngest ever at age 19), Polunin is known as a bit of a ballet bad boy in the U.K. After two years as a principal with the Royal Ballet, he abruptly left. And then, earlier this spring, he left a Peter Schaufuss Company production of the ballet “Midnight Express” a few days before it was set to open in London. While he’s called his relationship with ballet a “love-hate” one, his talent is undeniable. Even Schaufuss, who was admittedly upset when Polunin left him in a lurch, has spoken of the young dancers special quality being rare in the dance world.
Friday night’s performance with Peck will mark Polunin’s first time at the festival.
“He’s a young, rock star dancer,” Woetzel said in an interview a few months ago.
Polunin also will perform solo at International Evenings of Dance II on Saturday night, in “Les Bourgeois,” set to music by Jacques Brel and choreography yby Ben Van Cauwenbergh.
At International Evenings of Dance in 2010, another Russian ballet dancer, American Ballet Theatre’s Daniil Simkin, performed a charming version of the piece.
‘Pulls on the heart strings’
The other two new pairings Friday evening include Lauren Lovette of the New York City Ballet dancing with Herman Cornejo of the American Ballet Theatre in “Rubies” Pas de Deux from Jewels; and Isabella Bolyston of the American Ballet Theatre and Zachary Catazaro of the New York City Ballet performing “Swan Lake” Act III Pas de Deux.
Also new to the festival are two dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem: Ashley Murphy and Jehbreal Muhammad Jackson. This evening the two will perform “When Love,” with music by Philip Glass and choreography by Helen Pickett.
“I think anyone who sees it will enjoy it ... it is very playful and it pulls on the heart strings,” Murphy said.
Jackson calls the pas de deux a “simply a story of love between two people.
“I feel that it contains both the feeling of a naive and curious love as if it’s happening for the very first time and an experienced love that holds the special memories and isms of a couple that has been together for some time.”
On Saturday, at International Evenings of Dance II, the two will perform an excerpt from “Contested Space,” with music by Amon Tobin and choreography by Donald Byrd.
“(The dance company) was founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook in 1969, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is a multi-racial ballet company,” Murphy said.
Jackson, who is in his second season with the company, learned about the Vail International Dance Festival a few months before getting the invitation to perform, he said.
“I stumbled on a video from a Vail performance of Jerome Robbins’ ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ and was enamored with the combination of the space in which it was being preformed and the dancing,” Jackson said. “I immediately wanted to be apart of it. I already have great respect for the dancers but to see those ballets surrounded by nature made me want to see it live someday. Now I get to be smack in the middle of it and be around so many artists that I admire, it’s an honor to say the least.”
Murphy agreed that the beauty of Vail certainly sets the festival apart.
“So far I love it here,” she said. “The scenery is so majestic. Being able to come and dance in this environment is a dream come true. I am thrilled to get a chance to see the other dancers, and especially with the mixed bill on the International Nights, it is sure to be exciting.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2984.