The late Stanley Williams was a renowned ballet instructor who trained generations of the world’s greatest dancers at the School of American Ballet in New York. Vail International Festival Director Damian Woetzel recalls Williams’ classes as church-like, quiet and intense, with a special emphasis on footwork — subtle, deft, and speedy, advancing ballet technique from proficient to refined. Woetzel fondly recalls Williams’ teaching methodology, especially his understanding of musical phrasing as a tool in his classes. “Instead of having combinations of steps accompanied by standard piano music or songs, Williams would often insist on the pianist simply playing a progression of chords, leaving space for the steps to fill the beats and silences … he created an obligation to dance every moment with sophistication.” Wednesday evening Woetzel hosts a special program about the kind of footwork Williams’ teaching created, showcasing six dancers, each one demonstrating a different style of dance. Featured dancers include:
» Tiler Peck is known for her arresting musicality, which Woetzel said is enhanced by her exquisite footwork. “How much is known about the subtleties possible in pointe-work and how that makes all the difference in being truly musical?” asks Woetzel.
» Robert Fairchild is not only a star ballet dancer, but also a terrific hoofer — a tap dancer who brings his background in jazz as well as ballet to bear on how his feet articulate complex rhythms.
» Fang-Yi Sheu is famous for her interpretations of the Martha Graham repertory. As a modern dancer, her bare feet feel the floor and absorb the force of her dancing, almost like a second set of hands.
» Tango master Gabriel Missé possesses a restrained virtuosity which is driven by his carriage — the way he holds his body — and by his brilliant and incredibly suave footwork.
» Lil Buck calls his style of Memphis jookin’ “urban ballet.” “Jookin’ is all about footwork,” Woetzel said. “Its rhythms are divided up into phenomenal bursts of brilliance, with dancing en pointe in sneakers bringing a further element to this evolving technique.”
» Herman Cornejo translates his unparalleled virtuosity easily from the floor to the air. “Herman’s footwork is completely organic to his dancing, creating the means for him to do amazing things while still maintaining form and integrity,” Woetzel muses.
“The UpClose series is all about seeing great dancing with more understanding through added context,” Woetzel said. “Even if you already love a dance or appreciate a dancer, further knowledge deepens that love and appreciation.”
Woetzel hopes the audience will leave with a better understanding of what makes not only a virtuosic dancer, but a sophisticated one, and how footwork plays a role in the elevation of dance.