Woetzel pondering what’s possible with Juilliard and Vail | VailDaily.com

Woetzel pondering what’s possible with Juilliard and Vail

John LaConte | jlaconte@vaildaily.com
Before becoming the Vail Dance Festival's artistic director, Damian Woetzel participated in the festival as a dancer. In 2018, he will take over as president at the Juilliard School.
Townsend Bessent | Daily file photo |

Vail Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel has always asked himself what’s possible, and throughout his life, possibilities have opened up in front of him.

As he prepares to take on the role of president at the Juilliard School, he’s once again asking himself that question.

“Every year, working in Vail, it has been a question of what’s next, what’s possible,” Woetzel said Thursday. “A lot of that involved collaboration between art forms, and a great deal of my feeling for what’s possible at Juilliard — this great home of music, dance and drama — is really about what these things can do together to create great artists, great citizens and collaborators to influence our culture and the future of our country.”

As a child, Woetzel studied dance, music and languages.

“It was all part of one whole type of human education,” he said. “As it happened, dance is what really grabbed me, but those things remained in my life, and then when I became a professional dancer, those things came back.”

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Before becoming the Vail Dance Festival’s artistic director, Woetzel participated in the festival as a dancer.

“I remember taking the stage and doing ‘Stars and Stripes,’ which was one of my signature roles,” Woetzel said. “I had done it all over the world in different theaters, but I felt there was something about Vail that was totally special. It was outside, the altitude, the energy, the mountains all around, it was just something that was completely different.”

He continued to return to Vail, bringing with him others who would feel that same energy.

“The early years of Vail, for me, were not only performing, but bringing on small groups and putting on performances,” he said. “It was invaluable experience in engaging in possibilities through collaboration.”

Years later, in taking on the director role, Woetzel continued to see collaboration as a major answer to the question of what’s possible.

“The first night that I was director, I remember coming out on the stage and exhorting the audience by saying ‘let’s dance,’” Woetzel said. “We did Balanchine’s square dance, with the musicians all on stage with the dancers, it was already a big collaboration.”

In recent years, working with 28-year-old dance superstar Lil’ Buck at the Vail Dance Festival has motivated Woetzel to uncover the possibilities of the future of American dance.

“He has done everything from the headlining standing ovation appearances to dancing in the streets to working with Celebrate the Beat over at Avon elementary,” Woetzel said. “It is a complete package of artistry and citizenship that really has given me a tremendous amount of experience but also a great deal of inspiration for what’s possible.”


Woetzel says in addition to the incredible infrastructure of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater — which has seen a few custom redesigns throughout the years to allow him to put on unique collaborations in a way other amphitheaters can not — the people behind the scenes have helped the festival thrive.

“There are so many details and levels, too many to name,” he said. “Everyone from volunteers who drive the dancers up the mountain to the people who have to learn how to do certain spotlight activities that are incredibly difficult … it’s just a huge team endeavor, and it’s a really responsive one.”

The Vail Valley Foundation puts on the Vail Dance Festival every year. President Mike Imhof says he’s relieved to know that Woetzel’s role with the festive will remain status quo through 2018.

“Damian and the VVF have the best interests of the festival front of mind, and although his new position with Juilliard will change the landscape of how he and our festival have worked together, we will evaluate all options to ensure the best solution for all parties and a continued bright future for Vail Dance,” Imhof said.

Woetzel says the conversation has turned once again to what’s possible.

“We’re in conversations about how this might still work for me to still exercise a level of leadership,” Woetzel said. “Because I adore my time in Vail, I love the work and the possibility that’s inherent in Vail. It has never been a place where the word ‘no’ comes easily, and I love that feeling.”

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