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Classical versus contemporary

Cassie Pence
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyA nandanse dancer performs in Bacchus' Vessel Tuesday during Act I of Vail International Dance Festival's Different Dimensions II at the Ford Amphitheater in Vail.
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VAIL – According to choreographer Michael Smuin, there are only two kinds of dance.”Good and bad,” Smuin said. “You let the eyes of the people who are watching decide. Art is subjective.” Smuin is the artistic director of Smuin Ballet, a company known for its energetic and original choreography. His troupe performed Smuin’s newest ballet, “Fly Me to the Moon,” Tuesday night during the Vail International Dance Festival’s Different Dimensions II, a night designated for more contemporary works. A tribute to Frank Sinatra, the ballet blends classical dance techniques with contemporary forms, like jazz and tap, to create something new.The terms “contemporary dance” and “classical dance” evoke such different expectations among audience members that the classification can often determine who goes to see a performance.A man who might avoid a classic like “Swan Lake,” for example, might leave the house with a skip in his step on his way to a contemporary performance, as images of half-naked, muscular women dancing to a modern beat race through his head.

Audience members may consider classical and contemporary dance very different, but dance experts say that, in today’s dance world, the distinction is very thin.”I don’t even know what contemporary means, especially today,” Smuin said. “There are different dance vocabularies, different dance syllabuses that all these classical dance schools teach. These are just tools to choreograph with, then you jump off from there.”The way Europe classifies contemporary dance is different than the way America defines it, said Katherine Kersten, producing artistic director of the dance festival.”In Europe, they classify just about everything that’s not classical contemporary,” Kersten said.Classical usually refers to the 18th-century ballets, Kersten said, like “Swan Lake,” “Don Quixote,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” Dance has progressed, she said.

“Contemporary takes classical movements and makes it very free,” Kersten said. “It’s inventive movement, usually making a statement. But the foundation is always very classical.”Nandanse of Chicago performed “Bacchus’ Vessel” at the dance festival Tuesday night. Although the piece was set to music by classical artist Antonio Vivaldi, the movements were very modern, less fluid than classical dance and at times even a little jerky. The dance was intended to mimic drunkenness, and the dancers swayed awkwardly. The costumes were modern as well, with even the men in tu-tus.”I saw classical movements and modern movements, which is refreshing,” Marty Abbott of Washington, D.C., said about Nandanse’s performance. Abbott was in town with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, one of the festival’s sponsors. “I don’t think people would come to a performance that is strictly classical.”Nick and Barbara Braucht came up from Denver just to see Smuin’s dance piece. They had seen some of his work before in San Francisco and fell in love with Smuin’s playfulness. “Michael always does something fun and unexpected. Whether it’s a scarf or a hat,” Barbara Braucht said.



There were plenty of Rat Pack hats thrown around as props during “Fly Me to the Moon.” Dancers moved to Sinatra classics such as “The Way You Look Tonight” and “That’s Life.” The choreographer, Barbara Braucht said, creates dances both her and her husband can enjoy.”We’re not into ballet,” Nick Braucht said. “I’m a classic yahoo. But this is stylish. I like anything that’s edgy.”The dance festival continues Friday with the International Evenings of Dance, featuring principal performers from around the world dancing different interpretations of pas de deux, couple dances. Kersten has included both classical and contemporary repertoires in the evening to help continue the edgy feel of the festival.”This is all part of the evolution of dance. Everything is evolving,” Kersten said. For more information on the dance festival, or to purchase tickets, call 845-TIXS.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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