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Review: Vail Dance Festival Presents a ‘ReMix’ with Great Results

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, November 8, 2016

The Vail Dance Festival has been in existence in Colorado since 1981 where it has developed a reputation for presenting a variety of dance programs. It also provides opportunities for professional dancers to dance works or perform with other dancers, which might not be possible or would be unlikely within their present circumstances. Damian Woetzel, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, is the Vail Dance Festival’s current Artistic Director. He has brought some of the programs and unusual pairings to City Center under the title: Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC.

The evening started with Apollo, one of the signature ballets of George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, with a cast that included Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck, principal dancers of New York Ballet, and Isabella Boylston and Devon Teuscher who are with American Ballet Theater (ABT). It is known that Balanchine would revise his ballets, and had removed the original “birth” sequence from Apollo, but it was included in this program. All the dancers performed the cool Neo-Classical style elegantly. The women, the long-legged versions of Balanchine’s ideal female, included the Hand Maidens, Amber Neff and Unity Phelan, as well as Kaitlyn Gilliland, who danced Leto, the Mother of Apollo. Both Boylston as Calliope and Teuscher as Polyhymnia danced beautifully, but remarkably, Peck as Terpsichore also managed to project some warmth into her performance. It makes an enormous difference to have “live” musicians playing rather than recorded music, and so Igor Stravinsky’s music was enhanced by the musicians of the Catalyst Quartet and the FLUX Quartet, conducted by Kurt Crowley.

Tiler Peck also danced a short excerpt from The Leaves are Fading, which had been choreographed by Antony Tudor for American Ballet Theater. She was well matched by her partner, Cory Stearns of ABT. Tudor’s interest in emotional and mental states of character was an interesting contrast to Balanchine’s studied abstract movement, The music for the romantic adagio was by Antonin Dvorák, played by the Catalyst Quartet, who were onstage, in shadow, behind the dancers. It was just lovely.

Fandango, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to music by Luigi Boccherini, gave Sara Mearns of New York City Ballet an opportunity to strut her stuff with some Spanish-influenced moves. The FLUX Quartet played, with Scott Borg on guitar, and Elena Heiss on castenets. The musicians were on stage, and the choreography allowed Mearns to playfully interact with them.

Also on the program was Lamentation, choreographed by Martha Graham, who also created the iconic costume you may have seen in historic photos. The use of stretch-fabric as part of the movement is a startlingly effective visual: pulling the fabric into geometric shapes paralleled the tension caused by grief. Carla Körbes (formerly of Pacific Northwest Ballet) gave a touchingly emotional performance. The music by Zoltán Kodály was finely played on the piano by Cameron Grant.

Finally, for something completely different, there was Lil Buck @ City Center. A Jookin’ Jam Session. Lil Buck (Charles Riley) is a singular performer whose specialty is “jookin’”, a style of dancing from the streets of Memphis. Akin to hip-hop in which individual muscles are isolated and moves like the “moonwalk” are incorporated, Lil Buck, his dance partner Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles and Damian Woetzel choreographed amazing routines. In addition, there was a thrillingly talented assembly of multicultural musicians who played, sang (in a variety of international styles), and provided backup. Besides the violin, cello, bass, flute and piano, there was an odd assortment of instruments including tabla, gaita (Portugese bagpipes) and sheng (a kind of horn). The performance went from fun to hauntingly melancholy to exuberantly joyful. Mixing up the very different styles created unexpected sounds and rhythms. It was so fresh, different and exhilarating – and wonderfully entertaining.

Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC, Directed by Damian Woetzel. New York City Center. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Lil Buck; photo: Erin Baiano

Appropriately on an evening of mostly ballet, Lil Buck also danced to “The Dying Swan” by Saint-Saëns. This is the same music interpreted by the iconic ballerina Anna Pavlova, who was famous for this role. Pavlova would be jealous of Lil Buck’s undulating arms. Thanks to YouTube, you can see Lil Buck (Spike Jonze recorded Lil Buck on an iPhone and posted it on YouTube). YouTube also has a very early film of Pavlova’s performance, as well those of other ballerinas, like Maya Plisetskaya, in more modern films. There’s nothing like a live performance with audience response, but you can get an idea while watching on your computer.

Prior to the performance on November 4th, it was announced that American Ballet Theater dancer Herman Cornejo had been injured, so the pas de deux programmed for him and Alessandra Ferri was not performed, which was personally disappointing since I am such a fan of both these great artists’ work.

Clearly, artistry comes in many forms. And once again, City Center deserves credit for providing audiences the opportunity to see such a variety of artists in one program.

Cover: Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck in ‘Apollo’; photo: Erin Baiano

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Apollo; choreography by George Balanchine; music by Igor Stravinsky; original lighting by Ronald Bates; conductor: Kurt Crowley; musicians: Catalyst Quartet, FLUX Quartet, and Logan Coale (double bass), Emily Popham Gillins (violin), Mario Gotoh (viola), Clara Kennedy (cello), Laura Lutzke (violin), Grace Park (violin), Miranda Sielaff (viola), Emily Dagett Smith (violin); dancers: Robert Fairchild, Tiler Peck, Isabella Boylston, Devon Teuscher, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Amber Neff, Unity Philan.

Fandango; choreography by Alexei Ratmansky; music by Luigi Boccherini; costumes by William Ivy Long; musicians: FLUX Quartet, Scott Borg (guitar), Elena Heiss (castenets). dancer: Sara Mearns.

The Leaves are Fading; choreography by Antony Tudor; music by Antonin Dvorák; original lighting by Jennifer Tipton; costumes by Patricia Zipprodt; musicians: Catalyst Quartet; dancers: Tiler Peck, Cory Stearns.

Lamentation; choreography, costume and lighting by Martha Graham; music by Zoltán Kodály; Cameron Grant (piano); dancer: Carla Körbes.

Lil Buck @ City Center, A Jookin’ Jam Session; choreography by Lil Buck, Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles, Damian Woetzel; music: various traditional folk music, original songs, and improvisations; musicians: Sandeep Das (tabla), Grace Park (violin), Eric Jacobsen (cello), Cristina Pato (piano, gaita), Kate Davis (bass, piano, vocals), Wu Tong (sheng, flute, vocals); dancers: Lil Buck (Charles Riley), Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles.


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