The unexpected leads to good things at Vail Dance Fest |

The unexpected leads to good things at Vail Dance Fest

Damian Woetzel
Director's Take
Vail, CO Colorado

Editor’s note: Damian Woetzel is the artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival, which is in town through Aug. 10. For more information on the festival, visit

The Festival rolls on! It’s been over a week since we opened with the great Savion Glover mixing it up with jazz legend Eddie Palmieri. That show was a terrific example of how a festival can improvise; around 5 p.m. the day before the performance, I got a call from an unknown number. I usually let those go to voicemail, but it’s festival time and who knows who could be calling from where about what, so I took the call to see if it was something urgent about an upcoming performance.

Sure enough, after an odd silence on the phone came Savion, calling, as it turned out, from the plane on the way from New York into Vail. After I quickly ascertained that all was well, no emergencies or missed flights and that sort of thing, he said that he was sitting with Mr. Palmieri, and they were just wondering if I could perhaps provide, at that late date, a good bass player to sit in on the performance the next night.

As it happened, I had been talking with Dave Grossman from the New York Philharmonic, a fantastic jazz as well as classical bass player. I had mentioned to Savion in an e-mail a week or two before that I had a guy who would be happy to sit in if that were appropriate, so this wasn’t a total non sequitur, but at that point, about 24 hours before showtime, it was a surprise and a pretty long and sketchy shot, so I told Savion I’d check it out and we’d talk later that night.

I hung up, had a laugh at the nature of the festival business, and quickly put out an all-points bulletin on Dave Grossman for the Vail Valley and surrounding areas! Luck was with me (and Savion), and I got Dave within an hour, and he was happy to sign up for what promised to be a truly jazzy day with a jam session with the King of Tap and the King of Latin Jazz at a rehearsal the next afternoon, then the performance a few hours later in front of a packed house at the Ford Amphitheater.

It’s the kind of thing that I love as a director, and that I loved as a performer – this is the way real magic can happen, through the unplanned and the unexpected comes real brilliance, where technique is second to instinct. When we are dealing with musicians and dancers of the caliber we are so lucky to have at this festival, it’s a good bet that the audience will get to see something real special. And so it was. Just like great jazz, the improvisation took off and the evening flew by punctuated by a series of standing o’s – who could ask for anything more, as the great Gershwin song goes!

Since then, we’ve had brilliant ballet from the Northwest, major modern from Paul Taylor Dance Company, a stunning evening of contemporary dance from Beijing, and all of it had elements of the unplanned, especially some pretty quirky weather! But the dancing has gone on with vim and vigor, and the great Vail audiences come out every night to cheer on the performers who have come from around the world to give on our stage. Next up, International Evenings with new ballets set to Aretha Franklin and Boccherini, and old ballets to George Harrison and Tchaikovsky –and Tango with my favorite ballroom dancers of all time. Unexpected combinations and partnerships are on the way, and I can’t wait to see what happens when it all hits the stage …

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