Chemistry in motion in Vail
July 30, 2010
“Bodies never lie.”
So said Agnes de Mille, speaking about dance’s ability to express what’s real.
And that makes Damian Woetzel a freedom fighter for the truth. The director of the Vail International Dance Festival has managed to create yet another season that isn’t simply a non-stop performance schedule, but really digs in and gives a nuanced view of the vitality of the arts. There’s music, there’s dancing, there’s interaction between the performers and the audience. And there’s magic.
The 2010 Vail International Dance Festival includes dance companies (Pacific Northwest Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, BeijingDance / LDTX, Tangueros del Sur), choreographers (Natalia Hills, Larry Keigwin, Alexei Ratmansky, Sang Jijia), world premieres, classes, off-stage performances and more principals, soloists and musicians than can be listed.
“The audience has grown in such a manner that it’s very adventurous,” Woetzel says about the Vail attendees. “It’s wonderful, as a director, to be able to challenge your audience. They don’t just want one type of dance. And the respect they give to these great artists when they come to the stage – it’s really gratifying and encouraging.”
Woetzel is busy cultivating the festival all year long: watching new dancers, finding up-and-coming choreographers, convincing established artists to celebrate certain milestones in Vail. He’s a passionate believer that the arts can enliven and enrich society, and works to that end. It’s a belief that’s taken him to the President’s Committee of Arts and Humanities and the World Science Festival.
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Since taking over in 2007, Woetzel has introduced live music to the festival. He’s allowed audiences “backstage” with a behind-the-scenes look at the creation process during the UpClose events. He’s also managed to invite multiple world premieres, so they almost seem to be a function of the festival, not isolated events.
“It’s a meeting place of the arts,” says Woetzel. “The way we have the festival scheduled, once we get going in earnest it just runs on like a continuous machine, a train that just keeps going.”
When he creates the program, Woetzel balances a lot of things. Sometimes he simply wants to watch a dancer on the amphitheater stage, or bring in people to showcase the great works they’re known for performing. He has a penchant for celebrating milestones (Paul Taylor’s 80th birthday year, Chopin’s 200th anniversary), and for juxtaposing historically accepted cultural titans with up-and-coming talents.
“Some of the in-town activities were experimental at first, and we’ve built on them,” Woetzel says about the Village Vignettes and Dancing in the Streets events.
This year won’t just incorporate live music on the stage, but also will feature the new orchestra pit for the first time.
“What strikes me best is how he communicates with the audience,” dancer Carla Körbes says about Woetzel. “It’s so nice to see his character on stage, introducing things. Sometimes it’s hard to translate into words what you do with your body. I didn’t know he could talk like that. He really engages the audience. He did that as a dancer. That’s why people loved him.”
Larry Keigwin is the festival’s first artist in residence. Over the course of the festival he’ll perform, choreograph and present his work.
“Having Larry as the artist in residence covers several aspects of the festival that I’m interested in,” Woetzel says. “Number one, to bring an important choreographer to Vail to do work here, make specific dances created here. That’s truly important. Secondly, I wanted to keep the momentum going with the public events. Thirdly, I wanted to get him on our stage to dance. He’s a wonderful dancer and it’s important to showcase that aspect of his work as well.”
The Vail International Dance Festival stopped being only about ballet a long time ago. Keigwin is proof that the festival is a celebration of dance, period.
“I come from the contemporary dance world, not that I want to separate dance into categories,” Keigwin says.
He met Woetzel backstage when they were both performing for Fall For Dance, one of the mixed programs at New York City Center.
From the wings, he watched Woetzel dance a Jerome Robbins piece. Also from the wings, Woetzel watched Keigwin’s “Love Songs,” (part of which he’ll be performing at Dance for $20.10).
Instant admiration grew between the two artists.
In addition to setting a work on Tiler Peck, Robbie Fairchild, Joaquin DeLuz and Sokvannara Sar, he’s creating a piece “on the fly” with whomever shows up for Dancing in the Streets at Arrabelle.
“I grew up dancing as a club kid,” Keigwin says. “I’ve always approached dance as a social place, and I loved theater. … I think everyone can dance.”
He dislikes the fact that some people think there’s a right and wrong way to dance.
“You can dance socially and make it about personal expression,” he says.
Dancing in the Streets will capitalize on that belief, while putting to the test his own ability to create spontaneously. He’ll see the site for the first time only two days before the event happens.
“I adapt to space pretty quickly – that’s my job to deal with space,” he says. “There are definitely a few thoughts running through my head, sort of a series of connecting daydreams. As artists we’re always daydreaming, ideas are percolating.”
Pacific Northwest Ballet is no stranger to the festival: It’s their third residency. The company seems to have a special relationship with the dances of George Balanchine, some of which they’ll present on the Ford Amphitheater stage. The last time they were in town, artistic director Peter Boal mused on the energy of the festival:
“I’ve got to say, there are moments for companies and artists in theaters. Vail was one of those moments. You could just feel the response form the audience.”
Tonight the Pacific Northwest will present an evening titled “Ballet Masterworks.” The company’s second performance, set for Sunday night, is titled “Broadway, Ballet and Beyond.” It will include a piece from Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story” and Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” which is enjoying a bit of a revival on Broadway in the show “Come Fly Away.” Vail audiences are already familiar with Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” pas de deux, but for the first time it won’t be Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall dancing it but PNB’s Rachel Foster and Jeffrey Stanton.
“The program is called ‘Broadway, Ballet and Beyond,’ and ‘After the Rain’ is somewhat beyond,” Woetzel says. “It’s otherworldly in that sense.”
The Paul Taylor Dance Company, set for Monday night, comes in celebration of the artist’s 80th birthday.
“He’s known as the reigning master of modern dance,” Woetzel says.
He started his career with a bang, and he’s still creating, still current – and still being met with critical acclaim.
“His company is a reflection of that work, that passion and ability,” Woetzel says.
The dancers have performed at the Vilar Center before, but never on the amphitheater stage. The diverse program will showcase Taylor’s range, including “Promethean Fire” and “Piazzolla Caldera.”
Born during a controversial cultural swing in China, BeijingDance / LDTX makes its Vail debut Wednesday evening. It’s the country’s first non-state-sponsored professional dance company. They’ll be dancing their own variation of “Rite of Spring,” which has been met with great success elsewhere. They’ll also be presenting a world premiere from Tibetan choreographer Sang Jijia.
Tangueros del Sur is a fairly new company comprised of dancers and musicians from Buenos Aires. It’s dedicated to both preserving the tradition of tango and helping it grow. The company’s full-length program, “Romper el Piso,” is yet another world premiere for the festival and will take place Aug. 8 at Ballroom 2010: Tango.
Of course, the International Evenings of Dance will be a parade of dance stars from around the world. Sometimes they dance with familiar partners, other times Woetzel has them paired with strangers.
“I love watching people get to know each other through dance,” Woetzel says. “They may in cases know each other for years, but they’ve never gotten to dance together before.”
The Ford Amphitheater can be a dizzying venue for both performers and audience members. Cradled by the Rockies, the stage gleams in the night. “It’s like no other place I’ve ever danced,” Woetzel says. “You have a natural backdrop, a natural background.”
“I love that stage because it’s a true stage in terms of size. It just feels like it’s made nicely for dance,” Körbes says. “The fact that it’s outside is so freeing. You can hear the birds, the thunderstorms – the energy outside drives you. And when the winds are blowing, my hair is blowing. I just love being there.”
The venue, the program and the energy of the festival are inseparable.