Dance for $20.19 changes perceptions about high-brow ballet for a general audience |

Dance for $20.19 changes perceptions about high-brow ballet for a general audience

By Kimberly Nicoletti
Lauren Lovette and Roman Mejia demonstrate choreography for the audience at Dance for $20.19.
Christopher Duggan | Special to the Daily

You’d never expect a prima ballerina to admit she didn’t spot fast enough in the middle of a performance, but that’s exactly what Lauren Lovette, New York City Ballet principal, did Tuesday night at the Ford Amphitheater. 

The spontaneous confession came as part of a larger plan to deconstruct any highbrow pretense ballet still holds. Damian Woetzel, artistic director of Vail Dance Festival, began Tuesday’s “Dance for $20.19” with an intimate view of how dancers toil to learn, polish and perfect choreography through the opening piece, “Behind the Scenes: In Rehearsal.”

Damian Woetzel coaches Lauren Lovette onstage with musician Cameron Grant at Dance for $20.19.
Christopher Duggan | Special to the DailyDamian Woetzel coaches Lauren Lovette onstage with musician Cameron Grant at the Dance for $20.19 program of the 2019 Vail Dance Festival.

As Lovett and Roman Mejia performed bits of “Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Deux” and “The Nutcracker,” Woetzel instructed them to lift a leg higher or run “like you’re being blown in by the breeze.” Woetzel pointed out weaknesses and strengths in the execution of movements and told the dancers to go through sequences again — and each time, they improved. The on-stage direction wasn’t intended to remove the magic of viewing refined pieces; instead, it revealed the process of creating a honed piece. In the end, it gave the audience a greater appreciation of dance and made it more accessible.

Since 2008, Vail Dance Festival has offered low-cost shows for just over $10 to $20. The festival also presents free performances, which have inspired young dancers to follow their dreams.

Adji Cissoko, Ashley Mayeux, James Gowan and Shuaib Elhassan perform an excerpt from Alonzo King’s “Common Ground” at Dance for $20.19.
Christopher Duggan | Special to the Daily

“(Dance for $20.19 showcases) a range of dancers and companies as an introduction, or treat, for the Vail audience to sample, followed by a free show,” Woetzel said Tuesday night. “It’s about you guys and seeing what we do here.”

The evening took the audience from the birth of American ballet with George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” which premiered in 1935, to the latest evolution of the form, with Alonzo King LINES Ballet Dancers’ “Common Ground.” The two selections underscored how the world of ballet continually morphs to appeal to a wider variety of audiences: Colorado Ballet highlighted the beauty, grace and floating quality of the form with “Serenade,” while “Common Ground” infused grounded, undulating African movements and dynamic formations with precise technique.

Lil Buck performs his own “The Swan” at Dance for $20.19.
Christopher Duggan | Special to the Daily

Woetzel personalized ballet for audience members by asking them to all stand and practice the opening choreography of “Serenade.” The exercise not only aligned audience members more closely with the dancers but also pointed out how dance can “create community in a way that you can’t do in ordinary life,” as Woetzel put it.

In-between “Common Ground” and “Serenade,” Lil Buck performed his iconic “The Swan,” in which he seamlessly and masterfully married street dance — wearing white Air Jordans — with traditional ballet technique and music. As always, his charisma, extraordinary talent and body contortions garnered a standing ovation.

Colorado Ballet performs George Balanchine’s “Serenade” at Dance for $20.19. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust
Christopher Duggan | Special to the Daily

From the first piece, when Lovette disclosed her unassuming, open personality, to the last synchronistic and sculptural choreography of “Serenade,” the audience’s highly enthusiastic responses proved that Woetzel had achieved his aim to make dance accessible to everyone — whether they know what a jeté and pas de deux are, or not.

The Vail Dance Festival wraps up tonight with “Closing Night: Ballet Hispánico” at 7:30 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Parties who haven’t caught a dance festival event and want to should attend tonight. More information and tickets are available at and at 970-845-8497.

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