Two by two; International Evenings of Dance an all-star cast of principal dancers from around the world |

Two by two; International Evenings of Dance an all-star cast of principal dancers from around the world

Sarah Dixon

In what has come to be heralded as a cutting-edge showcase of the finest dancers in the world, the 14th Annual International Evenings of Dance return to Vail August 4 and 5 with a lineup that’s sure to wow every fan in the house. Again.

The concept for the International Evenings of Dance was born in 1993 as a one-time only gala event, intended to draw attention and hype to the young festival. However, the audience and critics were so bowled over, Artistic Director Katherine Kersten and the Vail Valley Foundation decided to make it part of the annual line-up. It has become the signature production of the Vail International Dance Festival, and has earned a truly global reputation.

“The International Evenings of Dance series is a world all-star event,” Kersten said.

“The most sought-after couples from the leading dance companies of the world are brought together for two gala evenings.”

Each year, Kersten strives to outdo the last, and 2006 will be no different.

And then there were two

The concept of the evenings is to bring couples from dance companies across the globe together for two evenings, offering audiences a variety of the finest dance, both classical and contemporary, from outstanding artists of the dance world.

“Each couple performs twice each night in pas de deux (a dance for two) excerpted from classics such as ‘Don Quixote’ or ‘Giselle,’ or from works of contemporary choreographic genius the likes of Nacho Duato, Maurice Bejart or Roland Petit,” Kersten explained.

As the festival has grown over the last 14 years, so has the audience’s expectation.

“My challenge year after year is to identify and present not just the best known dancers but the emerging stars as well – and those performing the most admired choreography,” she explained.

Her talent in blending the two has been met with tangible success.

“For example, in l993, on the program of the first International Evening, a brilliant young French dancer named Agnes Letestu along with her partner, Jose Martinez, made their first American appearance on our stage,” Kersten reminisces. “Today they are both reigning ‘Etoiles’ ” the highest level of achievement ” of the Paris Opera Ballet Company and they have returned to delight us several times since.”

Keeping it Fresh

Another challenge ” or bonus ” of the International Evenings of Dance is keeping the repertoire fresh, when there are only so many classical pas de deux to choose from. Kersten says this is where a new level of understanding and appreciation comes from.

“Over the years, we have often repeated pas de deux such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Don Quixote’ as there are a limited number of archival classical roles,” Kersten explains. “The performance of them are measurements of attainment for principal dancers, and are cherished for that reason. What audiences can appreciate in seeing different dancers in the same role is the way each dancer interprets and brings unique emotional characterizations.”

The dancer is not the only hand to mold the shape of a classical pas de deux before it hits the stage, though he or she is usually the only one the audience sees.

“The differences also lie in that these roles have been choreographed over and again by some of the most revered choreographers, each bringing varied movement stylizations,” she says. “It’s really great to compare performances and through this process, one can begin to develop deeper layers of appreciation.”

Therefore, it is with an eye for both the classics done well, as well as an eye hungry for new work, that audiences should approach the performances. Considering the

2006 line-up, not a one will go disappointed.

“Dance companies everywhere would be thrilled to present a work choreographed by Nacho Duato, director of the National Ballet of Spain,” Kersten said. “This year three of his pieces will be performed by principals of his company: Alejandro Alvarez, Africa Guzman and Stephanie Dalphond. One would have to travel extensively abroad to experience the concentration of dance excellence and choreographic diversity available here on the stage of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheatre during this series.”

A Long Time Coming

From international stars to American headliners to up-and-coming artists, the 2006 International Evenings of Dance feature all categories of dancers. One celebrated dance legend, a sweetheart of the festival, is returning to Vail to dance on the amphitheater’s stage.

Damien Woetzel was one of the elite group of 10 artists to perform in the original Evenings of Dance. He has helped shape the showcase audiences have enjoyed ever since. As his reputation has grown, so has the festival’s.

“I was in the very first one, so I definitely have some perspectives on this,” Woetzel said. “It was the first time I ever danced in Vail, and I certainly found that it had its own attractions and difficulties.”

Among the attractions, of course, is the opportunity to meet and mingle with some of his most accomplished peers.

“It’s very exhilarating,” he said. “There are a wide variety of dancers from around the world, and there is a lot of excitement and energy from coming together with all of them.”

Woetzel, who performed Evenings of Dance in 1993, 2001 and this year, is very familiar with the difficulties found in Vail as well.

“The altitude is a huge challenge for dancers,” he said. “It’s also a wonderful experience, because the audience gets behind us a little, because we need it – it’s exhilarating for these reasons.”

Woetzel also touts the excitement and artistic growth that exists when a pas de deux is performed between two dancers from different companies, as will be the case when he takes the stage with Cuban dancer Lorna Fejoo. Fejoo, currently of the Boston Ballet, is also a repeat performer in the International Evenings of Dance, having graced the bill of the 2001 series.

“It’s the most interesting scenario when a couple from two different companies performs together,” Woetzel explained. “We have danced together a few times, once in Cuba and once in Boston, and this is such a nice occasion for both of us. Both of us have performed this repertoire with other people, but a new partner adds something, it adds a new level of excitement.”

Woetzel said he and Fejoo will perform two Balanchine pieces, which are certainly not new choreographies, but may be unfamiliar to the audience in Vail.

“A new partnership adds a lot to the element of what makes a performance different,” Woetzel said. “It adds a fresh invigoration, which is a natural process of dance. These pieces don’t just live on their own in a vacuum, they are always evolving through interpretation.”

Full Circle

For another performer, this year’s gala is about more than fantastic dance, cutting edge choreography, and exciting pairings. For David Hallberg, principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, it’s about coming home.

In 1998, Hallberg attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy at Vail, an intensive dance program which eventually gave way to the current International Dance Festival. He studied in Vail under the tutelage of some of the finest dance instructors and was extended offers to several top-notch international schools – all while he was still 16 years old.

“It was my first summer away, it was a big deal,” Hallberg said from New York City, where he’s wrapping up his season. “It was very influential for me. There were only 20 or so students, there were some great teachers, it was a very, very intensive program. I had several offers from some international schools after that, and I accepted with Paris Opera Ballet School.”

Hallberg went on to join the American Ballet Theater in 2001, and was promoted to soloist in 2004, and then to principal in May 2006. For this incredibly accomplished dancer, the return to the stage in Vail this summer is, in many ways, a return to his roots.

“Returning to Vail eight years later, it’s really come full circle for me,” he said. “Having been a student ” I was 16 at the time ” I was so inspired looking up to the guest artists that came for the gala. It was awe inspiring, these were the dancers we looked up to.”

And now, Hallberg is the internationally recognized and heralded artist who will be on stage, saucer-eyed fans staring back at him from the audience. Indeed, the tables have turned.

“It’s very inspiring, a little surreal, coming back as one of those artists, dancing with Paloma, who has been an international star for some time,” Hallberg said. “It’s kind of comforting to know that life and your career sort of come back to you this way.”

Aside from the seemingly poetic return to his roots, Hallberg looks forward to the International Evenings of Dance for the opportunity it provides him as an artist.

“Interestingly enough, dancing in a showcase like this is very different from working with the company you dance with,” Hallberg said. “You’re given a certain amount of liberty to express yourself, present what you would like to present. You are performing more as an individual artist – you are still representing your company, but you can break away from the mold a bit more.”

Hallberg also touts the atmosphere of community and shared art at such a mixed-company extravaganza.

“I have the opportunity to see other dancers throughout the world, to see what else is out there,” he explains. “It’s a very positive energy – it never gets competitive or diva-ish, it’s a warm atmosphere, where everyone gets to see each other. The dance world is small enough that we cross paths every once in a while like this, but we’re all based around the world, so it’s always a sort of homecoming when we do.”

Hallberg and his partner, Paloma Herrera, also a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, will perform three pas de deux during the series: the grand pas de deux from “Paquita,” the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” and the bedroom pas de deux from “Le Cosaire.”

“Several of the dances we have performed during our spring season in New York, so we’re very fresh coming to Vail,” Hallberg said. “Our interpretations and coaching are at the front of our minds.”

Vail, CO

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