News

Vail Dance Festival Celebrates 30 Years With Unique Commissions

Misty Copeland with partner Joseph Gordon and Festival director Damian Woetzel. Photo courtesy of Vail Dance Festival

Vail Dance Festival's 2018 season begins this month, and the program is designed to give dancers and musicians the opportunity to experiment in new forms and with new partners. "For the 30th-anniversary season, there is a special obligation to present the essence of who we are as a festival," director Damian Woetzel says. "In that spirit, we have even more new work being developed, even more collaboration and even more new companies taking the stages in our communities."


There are seven commissions, including a collaboration between New York City Ballet's resident choreographer Justin Peck and Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Caroline Shaw. "This is a very special commission, since it is the first time we've had an official composer in residence," Woetzel says.

Another highlight will be Michelle Dorrance's new work for American Ballet Theatre dancers and other festival artists. "Michelle is a creative engine whose energy infects the whole festival," Woetzel says, noting that this collaboration is one of three co-commissions between the festival and ABT.

This is the first season that ABT, Alonzo King LINES Ballet and Ballet Hispánico will perform, and additional commissions include work from Lil Buck, Lauren Lovette, Silas Riener and Rashaun Mitchell, Claudia Schreier and, in her choreographic debut, NYCB principal Tiler Peck.

"I try to do things in Vail that can't be seen elsewhere," Woetzel says. "It's dancers who ordinarily wouldn't work together, new collaborations, different types of musicians in unusual situations, even onstage participating in the choreography. What we are looking for is an experience that is unique—as unique as the beautiful venues in which we perform it."

Woetzel has led Vail Dance Festival since 2007 and has big plans for its future: "More," he says. "There is always a next step—a next step for an individual artist, a choreographer, a company, a musician. You name it, we are looking for something more for everyone, including the audience."

Vail Dance Festival runs July 28–August 11

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

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In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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