Vail Dance Festival opens on high note |

Vail Dance Festival opens on high note

Dancers of the Limón Dance Company in an excerpt of 'The Waldstein Sonata' on Opening Night of the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

The Vail Dance Festival opened at Ford Amphitheater on Friday with expressions of levity and joy.

The 34th season’s opening night offered an intriguing sense of what’s to come during the approximately two-week festival, with pieces by DanceAspen, Ephrat Asherie Dance, Limón Dance Company and New York City Ballet Moves.

Ephrat Asherie Dance started the visceral conversation, both literally and metaphorically, as dancers initially sized one another up in silence, then dialogued through rhythmic clapping, gestures and stomping. Silence became the breath in between low bass tones, percussion and movement, from hip hop to somersaulting and kids’ play intertwinement on the floor, complete with ballroom holds and twists.

The communicative body language even extended beyond the dancers, to the four musicians on stage and, at one point, to the audience, as dancers signaled to the crowd and, receiving an enthusiastic response, shouted “yay!”

As the five performers from the Ephrat Asherie Dance company seeped the audience in their rooted African American and Latinx street and social dances, their excerpt from “Odeon” blended a hybrid of choreography.

Set to Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth’s music (Nazareth is known for fusing early 20th-century romantic music with samba and other Afro-Brazilian rhythms), the dancers explored how street and club dances, including breaking, house, vogue and hip hop, interact when placed in new and varying contexts. In the dance festival’s environment, set against a backdrop of fully blooming flowers tucked among boulders and evergreens, “Odeon” seamlessly found a receptive home in Vail.

Then, Limón Dance Company infused the amphitheater with its own brand of “pure joy,” as Vail Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel termed it, through an excerpt from “Waldstein Sonata.”

Though Limón Dance Company celebrates its 75th season this year, it made its debut at Vail Dance Festival on Friday — and what a memorable debut it was.

Dressed in flowing soft pastels accented with brighter pinks and oranges, Limón Dance Company delivered a graceful, poised and very pleasing contemporary, balletic piece through the excerpt.

The “Waldstein Sonata” — Limón Dance Company founder José Limón’s last work before his passing in 1972, completed by one of his protégées — has been a staple of the company, due to its “organic connection to humanity and nature,” Woetzel said. “And what better place to connect to humanity and nature than in the mountains?”

New York City Ballet Moves garnered a standing ovation just before intermission with its “Other Dances,” performed by one of this year’s artists in residence, Roman Mejia, and the great Tiler Peck.

The gorgeous, romantic piece showcased Mejia’s prowess and Peck’s seemingly effortless ability to gracefully float across the stage.

After intermission, Caili Quan introduced “Press Play,” which she choreographed. As the festival’s other artist in residence, she was set to dance more this summer, but her baby girl, who she’s currently pregnant with, had other plans — so she’ll be choreographing more pieces in Vail this time around; she debuted in the festival with BalletX in 2014, and since then, she has become quite an in-demand choreographer, so it’s fitting that her baby girl is “demanding” her mom’s presence shines more through choreography this summer.

If “Waldstein Sonata” was “pure joy,” then “Press Play,” performed by four dancers from DanceAspen, was pure fun.

Quan originally created the piece for BalletX as a Zoom film during the pandemic in a desire to portray the “feeling of coming together to dance the night away,” she said. And that’s exactly what DanceAspen did.

The company, formed just last year by previous Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performers, showed their resiliency, passion and determination after the pandemic caused the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to disband its performing company and restructure, with a focus on educating kids.

“Press Play” began with a solo dancer in black, undulating her body alone, and in silence. Suddenly — “right about now” (as the funky lyrics rang in) — a second dancer in white joined in precise and innovative choreography. Four outstanding dancers of AspenDance transported the audience to a festive place, where it just feels fun to be alive and groove to the beat.

And it didn’t end there. Woetzel, in his never-ending-mastery of inviting the audience into behind-the-scenes and intimate experiences with the artists, easily coaxed the entire crowd not only to get up on their feet and sway and stretch their arms out wide, but also to literally dance together, in unison, in a spirit of revelry and community building. After asking everyone to mirror the Limón Dance Company — 13 dancers who formed an arc, which ultimately formed a circle of sorts with the entire audience — and leading them through specific “fall and recovery” and side-to-side movements, the entire Ford Amphitheater moved gracefully as one entity. It was such a beautiful and moving moment, it was hard to decide which to concentrate on: moving in unity or watching the exquisite moment unfold. Either way, it resonated with the spirit of the Vail Dance Festival: “that idea that we get to do this together,” Woetzel said.

Afterward, Robbie Fairchild and Byron Tittle presented a rousing and mesmerizing tap performance with “Piéce d’Occasion.”

The night ended with four dancers from New York City Ballet Moves delivering an electric “Red Angels,” with exquisite shapes, choreography and lighting.

If the opening night is any indication, it looks like it’s going to be another spectacular summer of dance, music, collaboration and inspiration.

Manon Ball of Ephrat Asherie Dance and musicians perform in an excerpt from “Odeon” on Opening Night of the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo
Dancers of the Limón Dance Company in an excerpt of “The Waldstein Sonata” on Opening Night of the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy photo

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