Dance companies please crowds with Vail Dance Festival debuts

Dance companies perform in Vail for the first time

Limón Dance Company in 'Psalm' at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

Two dance companies new to the Vail Dance Festival delivered stunning performances Sunday and Monday night, each showcasing different styles of dance.

Ephrat Asherie Dance, a company rooted in African American and Latinx street and club dances, performed “Odeon,” of which Opening Night audiences last Friday caught an excerpt.

Though “Odeon” premiered in 2018, Sunday night’s version at the Vilar Center was a bit of a world premiere, in that six dancers, rather than the seven it’s choreographed for, performed it; the seventh dancer was unable to attend, due to the pandemic, Vail Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel said.

“Odeon” began the same way it did on Opening Night, in silence, as two dancers approached one another, creating a conversation by clapping, which morphed into rhythmic stomping and movements, eventually accompanied by the sounds of the four musicians on stage.

Ephrat Asherie Dance in ‘Odeon’ by Ephrat Asherie Dance at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

Set against a much more urban-looking, weathered concrete wall, as compared to the Ford Amphitheater’s natural beauty, the set formed the perfect backdrop for the grooving street and club dance style.

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The four live musicians, Eduardo Belo, Angel Lau, Ben Rosenblum and Gustavo Santos Leite, added a rich layer of immersive experience through their percussion and piano playing. Between the musicians and the dancers’ lively, entertaining and animated choreography, as well as their innate ability to interact with the audience through gestures, facial expressions and eye contact, they made the audience viscerally feel the energy of casually gathering to witness — and become part of — the unique energy that happens when street and club dance intermingle.

The music, by Brazilian composer Ernesto Júlio de Nazareth, offered a variety of beats and melodies and overall lent a playfully percussive, lively and upbeat soundtrack for the dancers. Nazareth is known for blending early 20th-century romantic music with Afro-Brazilian rhythms, and this work allowed the dancers and musicians to interact in intimate and fun ways.

Some of the most captivating moments came in the form of: artists dancing and interacting with their shadows, projected on the wall nearly three times their size; fast-moving, nearly-blurred vogue arms (at times, accentuated with sparkling arm-length gloves); a mock fight, and later tap dance, carried out in silence; and slow-motion breakdancing moves, which required immense muscular control.

Omari Wiles and Angel Lau in ‘Odeon’ by Ephrat Asherie Dance at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

The evening ended with a rousing encore, to which the audience provided the “musical score.” Standing on their feet, the entire Vilar Center crowd clapped rhythmically while dancers and musicians freestyled. After the show, people walked out making comments like, “I loved it.” “Me too!” “It makes you want to dance.” “Oh, it was amazing.” And so, it was — and it did make you want to bust out a few moves.

Monday night, Limón Dance Company performed its historical works at the Ford Amphitheater. Woetzel introduced the company, stating: “As we celebrate 75 years of genius, we’re watching history and a legacy that has brought American and world dance to where it is today.”

Though Limón Dance Company observes its 75th anniversary this season, this summer marks its first time at the Vail Dance Festival. It is hailed as the nation’s first modern dance repertory company, founded in 1946 by José Limón and Doris Humphrey.

Limón is credited with helping develop and support modern dance in the U.S. He immigrated to California from Mexico in 1915 intending to pursue a career as a painter, but when he saw his first dance performance in New York in 1928, he realized that “everything he had hoped to do in painting has been done” and was so moved by dance — a life he had not known existed — he “did not want to remain on earth and not do what this man (dancer) is doing,” the recorded introduction to “Air for the G String” stated. Through his passion, a new art form evolved, as he studied with Humphrey, another pioneer in American modern dance.

Monday evening began with “Waldstein Sonata,” which audiences got a glimpse of on Opening Night. Characterized by the grace of ballet, from its levity, turns and lifts to its arm and foot positions, one of Limón’s protegees, Daniel Lewis, finished the piece after Limón had left it incomplete by his death in 1972.

Limon Dance Company in ‘The Waldstein Sonata’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography by Jose Limon and Daniel Lewis.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

Artist-in-residence Roman Mejia took on Limón’s role in the evening’s second piece, “Chaconne.” The work was especially touching as Mejia, dressed in black, shared the stage with violinist Johnny Gandelsman. Stripped to its bare essence of musician and dancer, “Chaconne” captured the spirit of Limón’s approach to choreographing it, as he would turn on the phonograph and seep himself in the sublimity of the concept, asking the music: “Tell me what to do.” As the recorded introduction stated, “the dance emerged elegant, majestic, and above all, beautiful.”

Roman Mejia performs ‘Chaconne’ with musician Johnny Gandelsman during the Limon Dance Company performance at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

After intermission, “Air for the G String” depicted humanity’s relationship with the force of gravity, through modern dance’s characteristic rise and fall patterns. Donning long, golden robes that spilled onto the floor like a princess brides’ trailing veil, the core of the dancers, dressed predominantly in pink with one teal dancer, played out like a painting on stage. Arms reaching upward became brushstrokes on the canvas of the Ford Amphitheater, and rich golden material billowed about, as five dancers created visually pleasing art in motion.

Limon Dance Company in ‘Air for the G Sting’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography by Doris Humphrey.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

The night ended with “Psalm,” based on the Jewish legend of 36 just men upon whose piety the world’s fate depends. “Psalm” depicts a just man, repelled by a group that ultimately unites and confronts its fears. Eventually, the just man is able to enter the center of the group circle, and the group lifts him up, almost as if in offering. The flurry of 13 pastel-colored dancers featured dynamic solo dance and group formations that ebbed and flowed in intensity, along with the dramatic music.

To catch yet another dance company new to Vail, don’t miss DanceAspen Sunday at the Vilar Center. The company, made up of previous Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performers after the latter restructured and disbanded its performing company, debuted in Aspen last summer and so far has had a very strong showing at the Vail Dance Festival.

Limon Dance Company in ‘Psalm’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

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