When Damian Woetzel came to Vail a decade ago as artistic director, he brought the vision of creating an open artistic community.
“Dancers often go to festival gigs, arrive with their music and costumes, perform, get the check and go,” says Woetzel. “It’s very normal and efficient. But I was always more interested in collaborations, artistic development, working with new artists, so I tried from the beginning to create an atmosphere in which to experiment and try something new.”
This month, the festival celebrates Woetzel’s collaborative mission and its expansion during his time there.
As a New York City Ballet principal, Woetzel performed at Vail for more than a decade before becoming director. “I was familiar with the venue, its strengths and limitations, the mundane stuff like not having wings, because until then, mostly small groups and gala evenings had been presented,” he says. “I wanted it to be possible to bring in larger companies; I wanted to see Serenade with the moon rising behind the stage.” Right off the bat, he says, he had wings designed.
The festival can now accommodate those larger companies and productions, while also focusing on both individual and collaborative artistic explorations. Artists embrace the festival spirit by teaching, talking, creating and doing community work. Commissioning new work from the likes of Fang-Yi Sheu and Christopher Wheeldon, and adding residencies for individual artists—from Larry Keigwin to Lil Buck to illustrator Andrea Selby—and dance companies, has created a team of artists who return each year.
Many resident artists teach master classes, ranging from tango to jookin to ballet, in order to connect with the diversity of people and ages in the community. In 2014, Woetzel furthered the festival’s education component by creating a scholar-in-residence program for rising dance students to be mentored by professionals and perform. This year’s scholar is Dario Natarelli (tap), a recent graduate of Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and performer off-Broadway in Tappin’ Thru Life. Artist-in-residence Isabella Boylston and company-in-residence BalletX are also on the bill.
Claudia Schreier, Rashaun Mitchell and Jodi Melnick are among the choreographers presenting world premieres for the NOW: Premieres evening. Other highlights include Dance Theatre of Harlem, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Dorrance Dance and a special UpClose performance with past artists in residence Carla Körbes, Tiler Peck and Lil Buck.
The festival runs July 30–August 13. The Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC (a version of the summer) is November 3–6 at City Center in NYC.