NOW: Premieres is the time, Vail is the place to collaborate and innovate | VailDaily.com

NOW: Premieres is the time, Vail is the place to collaborate and innovate

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: This article first appeared in Vail Dance.

VAIL — NOW: Premieres unveils more than just new works by renowned artists. It is a fertile ground, where molecules of creativity combine to form a hybrid of rare movement, form and music.

This season, the Vail International Dance Festival features new pieces from Lil Buck, Matthew Neenan, Claudia Schreier, Jodie Gates, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, Shantala Shivalingappa and Jodi Melnick, as they work with dancers ranging from classically trained ballet to hip-hop and contemporary.

Lil Buck: Master collaborator

When Lil Buck came across jookin, a street dance born in his native Memphis and characterized by gliding and sliding on the balls of the feet, he was hooked. But he never dreamed that what, to him, seemed like "floating in midair — gliding across the carpet like nothing" would lead him to perform with the likes of Madonna and Janelle Monae and to influence the world of ballet.

His vision of infusing spontaneous, freestyle street dance with the precisely choreographed world of ballet began when Katie Smythe, artistic director of New Ballet Ensemble, offered him free ballet training in exchange for teaching her ballet dancers hip-hop. He agreed, on the condition he didn't have to wear tights. And so began his mission to make jookin "essential to the dance world, on the same level as ballet and contemporary dance," he said.

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In a typical juxtaposition for Lil Buck, in one Vail season he wowed audiences with his jookin interpretation of Camille Saint-Saens' classic "The Swan," in which he blended ballet and toe-spinning-gliding footwork, and then switched gears to partner with Shantala Shivalingappa in her Southern Indian-inspired style of traditional dance, Kuchipudi, a 2,000-year-old marriage of stories set to rhythm.

This season, Lil Buck and Shivalingapa will build upon that piece, blending two styles of dance — both Southern but rooted in opposite ends of the world.

Neenan: Extending boundaries

As the co-founder of BalletX, a company that strives to stretch the vocabulary of traditional ballet by folding in everything from hip-hop to jazz, Neenan's most cherished time in Vail revolves around working with and being influenced by some of the best dancers and choreographers in the world for NOW.

"It's a night of wonder," he said. "It's usually a quick collaboration of guest artists dancing with companies. It's also very valuable and precious time, and everyone makes the best of it."

This year, Neenan is creating a piece based on a trip he took to India in January. In it, he strives to convey everything he "soaked in," from the chaos of crowded cities to the simple countryside, where farmers washed clothes in buckets.

"The cities are crazy, and yet there's this symmetry, this beauty with how it all works," he said, adding that his abstract piece contains "references to how spoiled we are compared to other countries. … It starts pretty symmetrical and takes a few different journeys."

He combines Franz Joseph Haydn's softer, classical music with contemporary music, all to be performed live in Vail by New York's Catalyst Quartet.

"The music is gorgeous," Neenan said. "It's really intense; it's all over the place."

Schreier: Music as muse

Schreier entered Vail's festival as an intern in 2007.

"I spent each day surrounded by artists of the highest caliber from the furthest reaches of the dance world, sharing their unique voices selflessly and unabashedly," she said. "And so, in many ways, having the opportunity to present a new work on the NOW: Premieres program as an emerging choreographer is a surreal, full-circle moment."

She weaves her classical ballet upbringing with modern and contemporary styles that come naturally to her.

"My movement style is both a representation and idealized extension of myself," she said. "My work has been described by my dancers as feeling very grounded and fluid, yet with a strong emphasis on maintaining clean lines and form.

"For ballet to continue to thrive as an art form, I believe that it must remain securely rooted in its past in order to branch outward without hesitation."

Gates: Innovator

After dancing as a principal ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet, Gates launched a professional degree program for dance performance and choreography through the University of Southern California. American Ballet Theatre has honored her choreographic excellence, with a style critics have described as "visually compelling, powerful, profound and richly textured."

"I am continually inspired by curiosity, innovation, artistic lineage and am compelled to further the art form," she said.

She infuses her pieces with "an organic sense of humanity, musicality, theatricality, intricate circular movement and complex partnering passages," she said. "Clear intention is key. Of course, being hyper-musical and having a sense of stagecraft is critical, and in my opinion, all choreographers can benefit from an editor or dramaturge."

Although her style is based in ballet, she blends hip-hop into pieces because she believes the latter form is "the social dance of our nation.

"It informs a ballet dancer in numerous ways, most prolifically with its counter rhythms, grounded movement qualities, bounce, articulation of the spine and unique isolated coordination that is not currently found in the ballet vocabulary," she said.

A host of inspiration

Melnick, a New York City-based choreographer, has collaborated with a variety of prominent choreographers. Much of her gift in working with other artists comes in the form of paring down extraneous movement, in order to present a clear stage "video." The New Yorker has likened her work to "water made human" with her flow, ease and depth.

Mitchell and Riener expand dance's vocabulary through modalities including interpretive poetry, stories, spatial relationships and artistic installations. This season, they will stretch their own comfort zones by creating choreography for ballet dancers through predetermined music. They will also dance a Merce Cunningham piece called "MinEvent."

In addition to new works for NOW, Tiler Peck and Robbie Fairchild will be dancing a revival of Jerome Robbin's pas de deux from "An Evening's Waltzes."

Vail International Dance Festival schedule

• NOW: Premieres — 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Dance for $20.16 — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail (lawn only)

• Dance Theatre of Harlem — 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek (sold out)

• Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance — 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Ballroom Spectacular — 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Dance TV — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

For a full schedule, including Master Classes and fringe events, visit vaildance.org or call 888-920-ARTS (2787).