Vail Dance Festival returns in-person for 2021 season, featuring “lab-like” environment for dancers, musicians |

Vail Dance Festival returns in-person for 2021 season, featuring “lab-like” environment for dancers, musicians

32nd season taking place July 30 to Aug. 9

The Vail Dance Festival is known for creating unique collaborations with its musicians and dancers. The 32nd Vail Dance Festival returns this summer.
Vail Dance Festival, Special to the Daily

On Wednesday, the Vail Dance Festival announced plans to return in-person for its 32nd season July 30-Aug. 9. Under the artistic direction of Damian Woetzel, the 2021 summer season continues the Vail Dance Festival tradition of creating innovative opportunities for artists and audiences as it brings together dancers, musicians, composers and choreographers for nine performances and numerous public events.

Highlights for 2021

This summer’s Vail Dance Festival will feature American Ballet Theatre’s Calvin Royal III as festival artist-in-residence, which will see him taking on new challenges as a dancer, including the principal roles in new works choreographed for him by Tiler Peck and by Jamar Roberts.

The Vail Dance Festival brings together annually a cast of established artists and promising newcomers, and among the dancers scheduled to appear for the first time as individual artists are the New York City Ballet’s Mira Nadon and the tap dancer Byron Tittle. They will join returning artists including Isabella Boylston, Herman Cornejo, Michelle Dorrance, Lil Buck, Joseph Gordon, Lauren Lovette, Roman Mejia, Ron Myles, Dario Natarelli, Tiler Peck, Unity Phelan, Cory Stearns, Devon Teuscher, Melissa Toogood, James Whiteside and more to be announced.

Returning to the Vail Dance Festival after several years absence are New York City Ballet principal dancer Maria Kowroski, who is in her final year with the company, and ballet and Broadway star Robbie Fairchild. The scholar-in-residence for 2021 is ballet dancer Philip Duclos, an advanced student at the School of American Ballet. Festival programming features these artists and many more in role debuts, new partnerships and new works, fulfilling the festival’s mission of providing new opportunities for artists at all stages of their careers.

This summer’s season will feature seven commissioned world premieres with choreography by Michelle Dorrance, Lil Buck with Lauren Lovette, Justin Peck, Tiler Peck, Jamar Roberts, Cleo Parker Robinson and James Whiteside. New music will be composed by Composer-in-Residence Caroline Shaw, Christina Courtin, Rhiannon Giddens and Tyshawn Sorey. Shaw is working with Justin Peck for a premiere featuring Tiler Peck and Herman Cornejo; Courtin, Giddens and Sorey are creating pieces expressly for the violinist Johnny Gandelsman, and those solos will serve as the scores for new dances by Dorrance (Giddens); Lil Buck and Lovette (Courtin); and Roberts (Sorey). In addition to formal premieres, the festival will continue to foster informal new collaborations in Vail’s “lab-like environment.” Musicians for the 2021 season will include the festival’s Quartet-in-Residence Brooklyn Rider; pianist and music director Kurt Crowley; and singer/multi-instrumentalist Kate Davis. Beyond new works for 2021, revivals of past festival commissions are planned including Tiler Peck’s 1,000th Orange from 2019 danced by its original cast of Cornejo, Boylston, India Bradley, Mejia, Lovette and Christopher Grant.

New York City Ballet launched its touring company MOVES at the 2011 Vail Dance Festival. Now, in 2021, New York City Ballet MOVES returns to Vail bringing works from the New York City Ballet repertory. BalletX, Philadelphia’s premier contemporary ballet company, will return to Vail as company-in-residence with performances at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, as well as in a free performance at the Avon Performance Pavilion at Nottingham Park. In addition to New York City Ballet MOVES and BalletX, appearing at the Vail Dance Festival this year is Cleo Parker Robinson Dance which is celebrating its 50th anniversary season, and will present a world premiere by its founder Cleo Parker Robinson.

This summer’s Vail Dance Festival will feature American Ballet Theatre’s Calvin Royal III as festival artist-in-residence.
Erin Baiano, Special to the Daily

“Fringe Events,” educational opportunities

Beyond its full-scale performance evenings, the 2021 season will feature numerous free Fringe Events including the Dancing in the Park performance in Avon and the interactive Dancing in the Streets performances in Vail. Educational work will take place through master classes with festival artists, and through YouthPower365’s Celebrate the Beat dance and music education camp which is provided to local children at no cost. Lectures and locally recorded episodes of the popular podcast Conversations on Dance round out the expanding ways that festival artists interact with the public beyond the stage.

The Vail Dance Festival offers educational opportunities for local youth at no cost.
Vail Dance Festival, Special to the Daily

Tickets, protocols

Organizers at the Vail Valley Foundation plan to provide ticketing in tiered waves due to potential changes in capacity limitations at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. The donor pre-sale will begin at the end of April and the public on sale is currently scheduled for the end of May. The Vail Dance Festival will strictly adhere to all local and state public health guidelines throughout the event, and asks participants to be aware that adjustments to schedules and programming may occur, but will be communicated ahead of planned events and performances.

Vail Dance Festival performances take place across the valley, including the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail.
John-Ryan Lockman, Special to the Daily

Vail Dance Festival schedule

Note that the Vail Dance Festival schedule is subject to changes and additions.

Opening Night

  • Friday, July 30, 7:30 p.m., Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

The Festival begins with an evening featuring appearances by Vail Dance Festival stars including Artist-In-Residence Calvin Royal III, and in their return to Vail after almost a decade, New York City Ballet MOVES. The company will open the festival with Jerome Robbins’ masterpiece Dances at a Gathering, embodying the spirit of reunion and renewal as we begin to gather again as a community of artists and audiences.

New York City Ballet MOVES

  • Saturday, July 31, 7:30 p.m., Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

New York City Ballet MOVES in an evening of masterpieces. MOVES, the dynamic touring arm of New York City Ballet, shares the company’s incomparable repertory with audiences around the world. New York City Ballet MOVES will present George Balanchine’s expressive Sonatine set to music by Maurice Ravel, Jerome Robbins’ timeless In the Night set to nocturnes by Frederick Chopin, and Alexei Ratmansky’s acclaimed Pictures at an Exhibition to Modest Mussorgsky’s extraordinary music of the same title.

UpClose: Artist-In-Residence Calvin Royal III

  • Sunday, Aug. 1, 6 p.m., Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

This first UpClose rehearsal-style performance for 2021 celebrates American Ballet Theatre principal dancer and Vail Dance Festival Artist-In-Residence Calvin Royal III. Hosted by Artistic Director Damian Woetzel, Royal will be joined by partners including Isabella Boylston, Unity Phelan and Melissa Toogood, in repertory that will include works by George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham and Christopher Wheeldon, as well as a first looks at the new ballets being created for Royal this season by Tiler Peck and Jamar Roberts.

BalletX: Sunset, o639 Hours

  • Monday, Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m. Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

Following a sold-out performance at the 2015 Vail Dance Festival, Sunset o639 Hours returns to Vail for one night only. This critically acclaimed story ballet transports audiences through a poignant narrative of loss, longing, and resolution, through extraordinary choreography by Matthew Neenan, and music composed by Rosie Lanabeer, Andrew Mars & the Sunset Club, performed live onstage by a cabaret-style band.


  • Wednesday, Aug. 4, 6 p.m., Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

In this rehearsal-style performance, audiences take a step into the dancers’ worlds through a unique behind-the-scenes look at how they prepare for International Evenings and NOW: Premieres performances. Upclose is hosted by Artistic Director Damian Woetzel and features festival luminaries.

Dancing in the Park with BalletX

  • Thursday, Aug. 5, 5:30 p.m., Avon Performance Pavilion at Nottingham Park

The festival welcomes Company-In-Residence BalletX to Avon for a free, family-friendly performance on the outdoor stage of the Avon Performance Pavilion at Nottingham Park.

International Evenings of Dance I & II

  • Friday, Aug. 6, 7:30 p.m., Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
  • Saturday, Aug. 7, 5 p.m. & 8 p.m., Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

A cast of dancers and musicians takes the stage in these signature Vail Dance Festival performances. Celebrating artistic collaboration and innovation, these unique evenings feature new partnerships and role debuts by a selection of today’s premier dancers.

NOW: Premieres

  • Monday, Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m., Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

On closing night, the Vail Dance Festival will present an entire evening of new works choreographed by a selection of some of the most inspiring creative voices in dance today including Lil Buck with Lauren Lovette, Michelle Dorrance, Justin Peck, Tiler Peck, Jamar Roberts, Cleo Parker Robinson and James Whiteside, with new music composed by Christina Courtin, Rhiannon Giddens, Caroline Shaw, and Tyshawn Sorey, performed by musicians including Quartet-In-Residence Brooklyn Rider.

About the Vail Dance Festival

Established in 1989 and held each July-August, the Vail Dance Festival is hosted by the Vail Valley Foundation and led by Artistic Director Damian Woetzel. The Vail Dance Festival brings a wide range of established dancers and musicians to Vail and features new works, collaborations, education initiatives, free community events and a host of programs that welcome all to enjoy the world of dance.

To learn more about the Vail Valley Foundation activities and events, visit

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