Opening doors: Vail Dance Festival curates dynamic 2020 season to reach wider audiences through the internet

While its season won’t happen in person this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vail Dance Festival has put together a collection of virtual performances and discussions for patrons nationwide to enjoy from the comfort and safety of their homes.

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and New York City Ballet perform Alonzo King’s “The Personal Element.”
Christopher Duggan | Special to the Daily

This Friday, July 31, the festival kicks off with an opening night performance that draws on debuts, revivals and new works made over the past 10 years of the festival. Up to 175 guests will be able to watch the virtual performance on the big screen at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail. The screening is free, starts at 6 p.m., and tickets can be reserved at This year’s festival runs July 31 to Aug. 7.

“In this moment, the Vail Dance Festival has the potential, through the internet, to go wider. It has the potential to create new devotees, new people who come to Vail, and open the doors in a different way than we normally could,” said Artistic Director Damian Woetzel. “To me, it’s a dynamic possibility.”

UPCLOSE: Apollo Vail International Dance Festival, 2015. Heather Watts coaching Tiler Peck and Herman Cornejo in Apollo. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust.
Erin Baiano | Special to the Daily

While the festival is looking forward to the 2021 season with anticipation and hope, a big focus this year for Woetzel, the dancers and the musicians was creating works, as they put it, “in and for the virtual space.” Artistic collaboration and a “creative nirvana,” as Woetzel puts it, is a huge reason the festival is able to create its works, and without that, the festival adapted its creative process to prioritize health and safety.

“As we made this digital version, we wanted to choose things that showed that progression: How the new works get put together, and seeing dancers that come to the festival consistently over time take on new roles and partnerships. The real, creative, collaborative part of the festival comes to life on a screen,” said Woetzel.

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And working with recurring artists, the festival wanted to highlight the progression they’ve made over the years as they’ve honed their craft and stepped into new roles. On that front this year, Woetzel and Heather Watts will present Passing Balanchine On, a conversation on curating George Balanchine’s works through the years, featuring Tiler Peck, Carla Korbes, Unity Phelan and Calvin Royal III.

“It’s a building process. It’s always an educational process. It’s never the traditional gig where someone gets up, does their bit and leaves. There’s always something that’s growing,” Woetzel said. “That’s the heart of the festival.”

NOW: Premieres, Celebrating Woman Choreographers, “we seem to be more than one,” Vail Dance Festival , Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Monday, August 7, 2017.
Erin Baiano | Special to the Daily

And another core tenet of the Vail Dance Festival is juxtaposing different dance styles: ballet and street dance, for example.

“If you think about the live festival as an assembly of ingredients: sometimes I call it ‘Iron Chef.’ What are we going to make? We have all of these incredible ingredients,” Woetzel said, referencing the TV show. “Now, the ingredients are the works themselves.”

With that, Woetzel and the festival artists are working to create new ideas in dance. Those will be highlighted in the NOW: Premieres program, which every year including 2020, features new works created by and for the Vail Dance Festival.

“That’s the nature of the dance festival. It’s all about ‘what if,’” Woetzel said.

Damian Woetzel rehearsing Calvin Royal III in “Apollo”, Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust. This photo was taken during rehearsals on June 13, 2019 at The Juilliard School, where Woetzel serves as President.
Erin Baiano | Special to the Daily

Even with forced virtual formatting for the pandemic, the festival is retaining its collaborative spirit, its commitment to experimentation and dedication to the art of dance.

“That will be ongoing until we get back in person next summer,” Woetzel said. “We’re preparing and we’re making. Even as we look back, we look forward.”

View the full Vail Dance Festival schedule at

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