New works, new partnerships, new energy at the 2022 NOW Premieres performance |

New works, new partnerships, new energy at the 2022 NOW Premieres performance

Caili Quan plays on Vail Mountain during the 2021 Vail Dance Festival. Quan is an Artist-In-Residence at the 2022 Festival, and will be presenting two new works Monday, in addition to dancing in a third.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

Before there is dance, there is music — notes and rhythms and phrasing. Then come the bodies, the movement. The vision. On Monday, eight choreographers will be debuting nine works on the Ford Amphitheater stage. The program will include a large cast of dancers representing a variety of styles. In some ways, it’s much like any mixed program at the Vail Dance Festival, with cross-genre exploration amongst pairings and partnerships old and new. But NOW Premieres is exclusively new work, created by choreographers specifically for the Festival, and there’s that palpable frisson of excitement that goes hand in hand with a debut. Even more so with debut after debut after debut.

The evening also includes works by Ephrat Asherie, Jodi Melnick, Bobbi Jene Smith and Pam Tanowitz. And Monday, after all those debuts are debuted, it will mark 100 new works presented by the Vail Dance Festival under Artistic Director Damian Woetzel.

New York City Ballet soloist and Artist-In-Residence Roman Mejia in a rehearsal of Caili Quan’s new work during Wednesday’s UpClose performance at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

Most of the choreographers were able to rehearse the new works with their dancers prior to coming to the Festival, but not in a movie-style montage where they work through the night, getting every tiny detail so dialed in they can perform in their sleep. No, we’re talking stolen hours between other rehearsals, other commitments. The rest comes from intensive collaboration in Vail — where, yes, they might work until the wee hours, but more importantly, they are able to ride the momentum of creation and creativity.

“It’s not just a gig where dancers are coming to perform,” says choreographer and dancer Justin Peck. “The Festival is the kind of place that incubates creativity and cross-collaboration and new ideas. And that is not easy to find. It’s something Damian (Woetzel) and his team have worked hard to create and to find the resources to support.”

Artist-In-Residence Caili Quan echoed the sentiment.

“It seems like these things, these collaborations, can only happen in Vail, when everyone is in the mountains,” she said. “And some can only be performed in Vail, on that big stage.”

Certainly there will be a lot going on on that “big stage.” From solos to groups, musicians and percussive dancers, introductions, insights and, always, the arc of movement: the work.

And it happens fast. That’s another theme of the Festival — how quickly things coalesce, and how exciting it can be for the artists.

“The beauty of the Vail Dance Festival is it’s a playground of excellence,” said Claudia Schreier, who first came as an intern years ago. She’s now a choreographer with several new works to her name. “You have carte blanche to do anything you want to do and explore and play, there’s just this lightness and joy and energy.”

Caili Quan

When Quan started coming to Vail a few years ago, her family quickly decided this was an excellent opportunity for Quan to have a working vacation — she works, and they enjoy vacationing in Vail. Everyone seems immensely satisfied with the arrangement. In addition to rehearsing and choreographing, Quan has also taught both a repertory and contemporary ballet classes for other dancers.

“I grew up in Guam, and any time an artist would visit, it would feed me creatively for some time. So I like to do that, to give back,” she said.

She will be presenting two works Monday, and dancing in yet another. Composer-In-Residence Caroline Shaw wrote the music for one of the pieces, which Quan set on four dancers. Though Quan usually listens to a piece of music for months, mining every nuance, things were different this time.

“It was a fast process, so I had to respond impulsively to what I heard,” said Quan, excitement palpable in her voice. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity to work with her.”

Quan set her second piece on fellow Artist-In-Residence Roman Mejia, who she first met at the Festival years ago.

“I remember being so amazed by his capabilities at such a young age,” Quan explained. “He has such a quick acceleration in his body, he can harness movement in a millisecond. So I started making a playlist of how I was perceiving him as a dancer. It’s very strong and emotional. We created that solo very quickly — he’s amazing.”

Justin Peck in rehearsal with dancers at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

Justin Peck

Justin Peck is the resident choreographer for New York City Ballet, for whom he’s created 20+ new works. He also choreographs for cinema, such as Steven Spielberg’s screen adaptation of “West Side Story.” On Monday, he will debut a work to the live music of mandolinist Chris Thile of Punch Brothers fame, a fellow New Yorker who he has worked with before. Peck is very excited about the collaboration, what he calls his most ambitious work to date for the Festival. Thile and Peck worked previously on a short piece, “Thank You, New York,” an ode to the city they both love. It was born from “that eerie quiet of the pandemic,” when so much was shut down, and so many had left town, at least temporarily.

“We have a mutual admiration for each other’s work. And we’ve played around with some creative projects and ideas, but never anything that’s come to full fruition in a performance,” Peck said. “It’s the kind of thing that could only happen in Vail. I don’t know why, that’s the kind of project that’s super aligned with how Damian curates, it’s got an unbuttoned quality for the audiences.”

Peck relates to Thile artistically.

“He’s similar to me in that he’s trained in a classical form but is so curious to collaborate and not stay in his lane with his creative work,” Peck explained.

Peck chose a setlist from Thile’s existing work, and has set it on six dancers — including himself — though Thile, performing live, is part of the staging, too.

“We’ve been exploring a way to present this hybrid of a choreographed work, but also a performance by Chris,” Peck said. “It’s about when the emphasis is placed on the dance, and when it’s placed on Chris as a performer —  a lot of it has to do with staging and tension, the ebb and flow.”

Patricia Delgado and Justin Peck in a rehearsal excerpt during the UpClose performance for Peck’s new world premiere for the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

Claudia Schreier 

Claudia Schreier has been coming to the Festival for years, but it’s been four years since she was here last. She’s presenting a dance to music called “Aroma al Distancia” by Gonzalo Grau.

“There’s this Venezuelan flavor infused throughout the music,” she said.

Though she was able to rehearse with the dancers for a couple of days at Juilliard, most of the choreography and a lot of refinement has happened in Vail.

“I spend a lot of time on the music, and this composition in particular is very rhythmically motivated,” Schreier explained. “There are these syncopated moments that take place over beats of six and so there’s lot to play with. The ballet is not comedic, per se, but there’s a jovial quality to it.”

Music is at the root of so much of what she does. Schreier recently worked with composer Tanner Porter for a piece for the Boston Ballet, and she found it incredibly rewarding.

“It’s so exciting when you can connect with a composer who moves you, literally moves you, so much that you can’t stand still,” she said earnestly.

Like everyone else involved with the Festival, Schreier seems as excited by the work itself, the doing and the collaboration, as the end result. But there’s nothing like a full house and an appreciative audience to come full circle.

“Dance is all about how it makes you feel,” she said. “Ultimately, you want them to feel something. I adore the Vail audiences, the energy is always really uplifting.”

Which is why they — and we — keep coming back.

NOW: Premieres is the penultimate performance of the Vail Dance Festival. It happens Monday, Aug. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Ford Amphitheater. It will mark 100+ new works presented at the Festival since Damian Woetzel became Artistic Director in 2006. For more information visit

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