Twinkle toes unite: the Vail International Dance Festival |

Twinkle toes unite: the Vail International Dance Festival

Wren Wertin

The performances themselves are often the culmination of several years of work by Katherine Kersten, artistic director. Finding dance companies is the easy part – arranging for them to travel to the U.S. can be tricky, as with the Shanghai Dance Ensemble, which made its U.S. debut at last year’s festival.

“It’s unusual to see so many artists of this caliber together,” said Kersten.

She’s in a position to know. As a former dancer and current dance lover, she travels extensively with different ballet companies, seeking out good matches for the Vail Festival.

International evenings of dance

This year, the festival will kick off as usual with the International Evenings of Dance, August 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m., at the Ford Amphitheater. This series showcases individual principal dancers and couples from major dance companies around the world. Begun in 1993 by Kersten, 2002 marks the 10th anniversary.

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“The artists really enjoy these evenings tremendously,” said Kersten. “They know of the other artists of course, but they don’t usually have the chance to get to know them. It’s fun to be on stage with top dancers from other companies. Of course there’s a certain electricity about the dancers, a very friendly competitive buzz, which transfers over to the audience.”

Kersten believes this year will be more eclectic and diverse than any previous ones, due to the dancers themselves. Many of the dancers who have returned to the festival over the years made their Vail debut – and often their U.S. debut – during the International Evenings of Dance.

This year will see performances from Colin Dunne and Colleen Farrell, former stars of Riverdance and Dancing on Dangerous Ground; Chan Han Goh and Geon Van Der Wyst, dramatic principals with National Ballet of Canada; Luigi Bonino, international guest artist and artistic colleague of choreographer Roland Petit; Bridget Briener and Douglas Lee, principals with Stuttgart Ballet and the rising star from the Bolshoi Ballet, Dimitry Gudanov with his partner Anna Antonicheva.

Back by popular demand are World Ballroom Champions Vivienne Ramsey and David Howland. Elizabeth Koeppen, a leading dancer with David Parsons, rounds out the evening.

Choreographers collection

Every year, a new up-and-coming choreographer is commissioned to create a piece specifically for the festival. Since its inception four years ago, the Choreographers Collection has been underwritten by Vail resident Judy Alexander. This year, Damian Woetzel, principal dancer for The New York City Ballet, has been chosen for the Collection. It will be performed at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek on August 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Woetzel’s dramatic, neo-classic work, set to music by Shostakovich, will join the ranks of the four other pieces commissioned by the festival. They are all currently being performed by American companies. Woetzel’s piece is tentatively named “Snap.” The evening will also see performances of George Balanchine’s work.

Woetzel participated in the first International Evenings of Dance in 1993, when he was on the rise in the New York City Ballet. It’s fitting that he should return for the 10th anniversary, this time creating a dance that will forever be linked with Vail.

“Over the years I’ve watched his career,” said Kersten. “He shows great interest and talent in choreography. We’ll be seeing more of him in the future – and that’s part and parcel of what the Choreographers Collection is about.”

“From Paris With Love”

Part of what makes the festival so special is the consistent presence of guest artists not commonly seen on the touring circuit. The Paris Opera Ensemble is one such example. Featuring Agnes Letestu and Jose Martinez – who were both part of the 1993 Festival – they will be performing with Dance Cuba! on August 8 and by themselves on August 9, at 7:30 p.m., at the Ford Amphitheater.

“I’m so excited about Agnes and Jose; I’ve known them for many years,” said Kersten. “The Etoiles is the number one level to achieve in the Paris Opera Ballet, and that’s what they are.”

The entire company is comprised of 120 dancers. For years festival organizers have wanted to cull a small group from the company and bring them to Vail. According to Kersten, the Paris Opera Ballet is the most highly regarded company in the world of dance today. It is also the oldest, established in the 17th century by Louis XIV, the Sun King.

The group will perform classical works including excerpts from “Raymonda,” “La Bayadere” and “Don Quixote” interspersed with European contemporary repertory by William Forsythe and Carolyn Carlson, among others.

Dance Cuba!

When Kersten was travelling with the Washington Ballet last year, they went to Cuba for a performance. Through sheer determined will, she was able to engage them for three days at the festival: August 8 with “From Paris with Love” and August 10 solo at 7:30 p.m., and a matinee August 11 at 1:30 p.m. All performances will be at the Ford Amphitheater.

“Several of us had the opportunity to see this company,” she said. “Their fire, their energy, their exuberance, was wonderful, a perfect match for Vail. Their style is based in flamenco, but they merge the styles of Spain, Africa and Cuba. They will be accompanied by a live ensemble of Cuban musicians, an extraordinary group.”

Dance Dialogues

In order to encourage the further appreciation of the art of dance, the festival will host five dialogues, free of charge and open to the public. All Dance Dialogues run from noon to 1 p.m.

Dance Criticism – a Point of View: Glen Giffin, recently retired arts critic for the Denver Post, will talk about how a dance critic views a performance on August 2 at Ford Amphitheater. Dance in America – and the Future Is?: Marian Horosko, dance journalist, will discuss the state of dance today on August 6 at the Vilar Center. Choreography – the Creative Process: Damian Woetzel will speak about what inspires a choreographer to create a new work and his approach to the creative process on August 7 at the Vilar Center. Inside Palais Garnier – the Paris Opera Ballet: Letestu, Martinez provide an intimate look at life in the company, and Kersten traces the history on August 8 at the Ford Amphitheater. Dance Cuba! – Inspiring Roots: Lizt Alfonso, founder of Dance Cuba!, will speak about life as an artist in Cuba on August 10 at the Ford Amphitheater.

To order tickets for the Vail International Dance Festival, call (970) 845-TIXS, or toll free at (888) 920-ARTS.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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