Vail Dance Festival: American Ballet Theatre nurtures new choreographers while celebrating the classics | VailDaily.com

Vail Dance Festival: American Ballet Theatre nurtures new choreographers while celebrating the classics

Susan Reiter
Special to the Daily

Devon Teuscher, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer.

VAIL — American Ballet Theatre's dancers have been frequent participants in the Vail Dance Festival's programming during recent years. Many have had opportunities to expand in new directions, including Misty Copeland, James Whiteside, Calvin Royal III and Devon Teuscher; Isabella Boylston and Herman Cornejo have each taken a turn as festival artist-in-residence.

This year promises another exciting highlight: American Ballet Theatre makes its official debut at the festival in a program showcasing choreographers who have helped shape the company's identity. Now in its 78th year, American Ballet Theatre proudly carries its illustrious history while maintaining its distinct identity to help move the art of ballet into a bright future.

When Ballet Theatre — as it was initially named — was launched in 1940, those who believed in the possibility of establishing a truly American ballet company were visionary — and perhaps audacious. The founders, Lucia Chase — an indomitable figure who continued to lead the company for the next four decades — and Oliver Smith, planned to cultivate a repertory that combined great works of the past with important new choreography.

Through the company's nearly eight decades of growth and change — and generations of stellar dancers who have left their marks on ballet history — that basic formula has held firm.

19th Century Classics

American Ballet Theatre is closely associated with many of the 19th-century full-length classics, such as "Giselle," "Swan Lake" and "The Sleeping Beauty," as well as seminal 20th-century additions to the form, such as Kenneth Macmillan's "Romeo and Juliet" and Frederick Ashton's "Cinderella." The company regularly performs this repertory throughout its extensive domestic and international tours each year, as well as for most of its annual eight-week New York season.

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But, from the start, American Ballet Theatre has nurtured significant and innovative choreographers, and the list of landmark ballets that had their premieres on an American Ballet Theatre program is extensive.

Antony Tudor and Agnes de Mille were mainstays of the company during its initial decade, and beyond. Tudor's potent, psychologically probing ballets were strikingly new, even shocking at times. De Mille, whose beloved "Rodeo" became an American Ballet Theatre repertory staple, also melded potent theatricality and an inherently American optimism and warmth in many enduring ballets.

Also making a name for himself during the 1940s was a young American Ballet Theatre dancer who longed to choreograph — Jerome Robbins. The company took a chance on him, and in 1944, he burst onto the scene with "Fancy Free," a ballet that was not only distinctly American in its flavor and attitude, but that also captured a quintessential historical moment with its brilliantly conceived depiction of three wartime sailors on 24-hour leave in New York City. Composing the score was an equally talented and innovative young American — Leonard Bernstein.

Beloved Standard

Their ballet became a huge hit that audiences couldn't get enough of, and it remains a beloved standard today, as evidenced by its performances at last year's festival. It launched two titanic careers and frequent collaborations between the two, including the groundbreaking musical "West Side Story." Both Robbins and Bernstein's centennials are being celebrated worldwide throughout 2018.

Fittingly, both of these seminal figures will be represented on American Ballet Theatre's Sunday, July 29, program. The company will perform Alexei Ratmansky's 2016 "Serenade After Plato's Symposium," one of this master choreographer's most profound and original works, set to and titled after Bernstein's vibrant 1954 score. Seven men form a community that moves through contemplation, fury, exhilaration and — with the appearance of a lone woman — the possibility of ideal romance.

Robbins will be represented by his 1976 "Other Dances," a virtuosic duet to Chopin piano selections that ranges through varied moods, from meditative to playful. Tiler Peck, the beloved Vail Dance Festival mainstay, will make a guest appearance.

If you go …

What: American Ballet Theatre Vail Dance Festival debut.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 29.

Where: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, 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

• “Praedicare,” featuring Devon Teuscher, Cassandra Trenary, Joo Won Ahn, Thomas Forster, Joseph Gorak, Tyler Maloney, Calvin Royal III, Arron Scott, Jose Sebastian and James Whiteside.

• “The Leaves are Fading” (Second Pas de Deux), featuring Hee Seo and Aran Bell.

• “Other Dances,” with Tiler Peck, courtesy of the New York City Ballet, and Cory Stearns and Cameron Grant on piano.

Intermission

• “Serenade After Plato’s Symposium,” featuring Joo Won Ahn, Herman Cornejo, Thomas Forster, Tyler Maloney, Calvin Royal III, Arron Scott, James Whiteside and Hee Seo.