‘It has to be your passion’ – Vail dance festival | VailDaily.com

‘It has to be your passion’ – Vail dance festival

Alexandra Navas
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company
Erin Baiano |

VAIL, Colorado – Fresh, exciting and original. If asked to describe the ballet company Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, those are three words that immediately come to mind. Tonight the dancers of Morphoses will present the Vail debut of “Commedia,” a piece choregraphed in part during the 2008 Morphoses residency in Vail.

The company, founded in 2007 by Christopher Wheeldon, has a special connection to the Vail Valley. Three years ago, Morphoses had its worldwide premiere at the Vail International Dance Festival. Since this first inaugural appearance, the company has dazzled audiences with its wide repertoire, some of which was created in the valley.

“(The Company) is crafted on Christopher Wheeldon’s vision,” said Damian Woetzel, the artistic director of the dance festival.

It’s also a dynamic group – Morphoses presents both old masterpieces as well as entirely new dances, Woetzel said.

The company attracts some of the best dancers in the world. Wendy Whelan, who has danced as a principal ballerina with the New York City Ballet for 18 years, loves performing with the fresh, young company.

“In my mind, it’s kind of a lab. (Wheeldon) likes to mix different artists. … He brings all these people together to create a meal with mixed ingredients. … It’s so fun,” Whelan said.

Morphoses does indeed unite dancers of many different ages and nationalities on one stage. On Friday night, Whelan, who is 42 years old and a veteran ballerina, will perform alongside Beatriz Stix-Brunell, a talented 16-year-old who has danced with Morphoses for two years. It’s a good dynamic, said Stix-Brunell, who is grateful for the learning opportunity.

“I am extremely fortunate to be a part of this company, and to be working with one of the most important choreographers of today. … Every day I learn something new from Mr. Wheeldon and my colleagues, who are all world-class dancers.”

Whelan, who was only one year older than Stix-Brunell when she started as an apprentice with the New York City Ballet corps, said that those first years are an important time for an aspiring ballerina.

“You have to prove yourself during that time,” Whelan said. Choreographers and directors are looking to see the stuff the dancers are made of during those years, she said.

Both Whelan and Stix-Brunell are role models for young dancers. Johanna Hayes, 13, has been dancing in the Vail Valley for nine years. For her, it’s inspiring to see someone only a few years older performing for a world-class company.

“You’d really have to be dedicated,” Hayes said. “Most 16-year-olds are driving and having fun. To be in a company like that, it has to be your passion.”

Stix-Brunell started pursuing her passion when she was 7, and since then, she has danced with the School of American Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet and the American Ballet Theater. Her advice for young dancers such as Hayes is simple and straightforward.

“There are no secrets in ballet, there is just very hard work,” she said.

“The ultimate reward is being onstage and dancing for the public. That is where the magic lies.”

Even Whelan, who has many years as a professional dancer already behind her, said that she still finds room to grow as a ballerina.

“You’re never going to stop learning, and you’re never going to be perfect. You have to keep striving,” she said.

Not all learning is done in a ballet studio, though. There are plenty of other arenas to continue developing a passion for dance.

“It’s about knowledge. It’s about immersion in the art form to see what has come before. … For young dancers, there is much more to learn even outside the classroom,” said Damian Woetzel, the Vail International Dance Festival director. Woetzel first slipped on a pair of ballet slippers when he was 4 years old.

One of the great parts of the International Dance Festival is that it enables dancers to learn outside of their usual environment. The UpClose series in particular teaches both artists and audiences about many different types of dance.

“The Vail International Dance Festival is very special,” Stix-Brunell said.

“One sees dancers from companies all over the world. As a young dancer, I love understanding the history or roots of a certain ballet or dancer.”

Even for those who are not striving to become famous dancers, the dance festival offers something for everyone, and Morphoses’ brand-new “Commedia” is more than just entertainment ‹ it’s a learning opportunity.

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