5 things to know about Vail Dance Festival favorite and Memphis jookin’ icon Lil Buck | VailDaily.com

5 things to know about Vail Dance Festival favorite and Memphis jookin’ icon Lil Buck

Cameron Morgan
Special to the Daily

If you've been to the Vail Dance Festival in the last seven years, then odds are you've witnessed the magic of Memphis jookin' icon Lil Buck. Since his Vail debut in 2011, Lil Buck has been captivating audiences on the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater stage and beyond.

Lil Buck dances what is known as Memphis jookin' — a street dance style that originated in Memphis, Tennessee — but he combines it with an uncommon balletic grace and charisma, making him truly a unique performer.

He is a regular performer at the Vail Dance Festival, and you can see him this year on Opening Night (Saturday, July 28), International Evenings I & II (Friday, Aug. 3, and Saturday, Aug. 4) and Dance for $20.18 (Tuesday, Aug. 7).

Whether you're Lil Buck's biggest fan or this is your first introduction to this dance superstar, here are a few things you may not know about him:

1. He's at home on the stage, wherever that may be

In 2010, Lil Buck partnered with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma in an impromptu rendition of "The Dying Swan" that quickly went viral. After that performance, the world was his stage. Lil Buck performed with Madonna at Super Bowl 2011, on her 2012 MDNA World Tour and also on her Rebel Heart tour in 2015.

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2. He's dancing to make a change

In collaboration with Jon Boogz, a Miami-based popping dancer, Lil Buck co-founded MAI (Movement Art Is) in 2016. MAI is an organization that uses movement artistry to inspire and change the world while elevating the artistic, educational and social impact of dance. As one of the first projects of MAI, Lil Buck and Jon Boogz partnered with visual artist Alexa Meade to create Color of Reality, a viral short film in protest to the gun violence haunting American society today. In addition, Lil Buck is touring the country in his first evening-length show, Love Heals All Wounds — a work addressing police brutality, mass incarceration, gender and racial equality through dance and poetry.

3. He's beloved by the big brands

There aren't many dancers who have reached quite the level of commercial success as Lil Buck. From his Lexus Super Bowl 51 commercial to his gravity-defying Apple Air Pod commercial, Lil Buck is in high demand by many major brands. In 2015, he worked alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov as the face of Rag & bone's fall and winter collection. He's done a variety of work for clients including Louis Vuitton and Glenfiddich, and even has his own capsule collection with Versace.

4. He's making the jump to the big screen

Lil Buck hasn't just taken his dance talents from the streets of Memphis to the stage, he's working in film as well. While he has appeared in a number of films as a dancer, he just recently began filming "Emperor," a Civil War-abolitionist film, where he will make his true acting debut alongside film stars James Cromwell, Bruce Dern and Kat Graham. Speaking of being a dancer on the big screen, Lil Buck has recently been tapped to provide the movement for The Mouse King in Disney's upcoming "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms." The live-action movie is scheduled for a November release.

5. He's diving into choreography

Coming off the heels of his successful Vail Dance Festival commission by the Martha Graham Company in 2017, Lil Buck is once again putting his choreographic chops to work. Buck is creating his latest work on the dancers of BalletX, a Philadelphia-based contemporary ballet company. You can catch this world premiere at the Closing Night Celebration with BalletX (Aug. 11).

For more information and to buy performance tickets, visit http://www.vaildance.org. For up-to-the-minute coverage, follow the Vail Dance Festival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

If you go …

What: Opening Night of the Vail Dance Festival.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 28.

Where: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheatre, 530 South Frontage Road E., Vail.

Cost: Reserved seating is $50 to 113, based on availability; lawn seating is $23 for adults, $10 for children ages 13 to 17, and children 12 and younger are free.

More information: Visit http://www.vaildance.org to purchase tickets and view the full season schedule. Follow the Festival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Programming notes

On the Vail Dance Festival’s opening night program, Herman Cornejo will make his debut in the Jerome Robbins solo “Suite of Dances,” which was originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov.

This debut gives the audience a chance to savor the artistry of Cornejo, one of the most extraordinary dancers of this time or any other. The Robbins solo is set to four movements from the Bach Suites for solo cello, to be performed on Saturday, July 28, by the young cellist Anne Richardson.

The Festival is renowned for creating new partnerships, and in this opening night performance, two ballet stars from America’s preeminent ballet companies will dance together for the first time, as New York City Ballet’s Lauren Lovette and American Ballet Theatre’s Calvin Royal III make their debuts in the Robbins masterpiece “Afternoon of a Faun.”

Another artist debuting a new role in Saturday’s opening night program will be New York City Ballet’s Roman Mejia in George Balanchine’s “Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux,” opposite ballerina Tiler Peck. Mejia sprang to prominence with a series of acclaimed performances at the 2017 Vail Dance Festival and now takes on this legendary bravura role for the first time.

These important debuts highlight the Festival’s season opener, which also features Festival stars Lil Buck and Michelle Dorrance and appearances by American Ballet Theatre and Alonzo King LINES Ballet.