This is the year of the virtual summer festival. Staying in front of your computer, you can have a virtual Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, Aspen Music Festival experience – and many more. One yearns to experience each of these unique locales, with their verdant scenery, distinctive histories and traditions, and artistic energy on overdrive, for real — not as a two-dimensional travelogue. But not while the nation is in the grip of a pandemic.
The summer festival I would most like to experience the old-fashioned way is the Vail Dance Festival, which I’ve been fortunate to attend three times. With Damian Woetzel as artistic director since 2007 (the festival had a more low-key incarnation prior to his arrival), VDF has become a hotbed of creative energy, fomenting collaborations between dance artists and musicians from widely differing backgrounds. For two weeks, the crisp mountain air and breathtakingly gorgeous scenery inspire a raft of premieres, unexpected partnerships, thought-provoking juxtapositions, and a series of terrific programs.
VDF didn’t announce the cancellation of live performances until mid-May, and I held out a crazy hope that Woetzel would find a way to defy the odds and present the exciting programs that had been announced.
But Vail has gone virtual, and while nothing can replace the walk along the picturesque town’s babbling stream towards the scenic amphitheater, the six programs (July 31 – August 7) Woetzel and his crew have put together, selected from the past ten summers, look highly enticing and will give thousands who have yet to attend the festival an idea of its flourishing artistic energy.
Woetzel has cultivated a core crew of regulars, though it is ever-expanding. Longtime VDF performers – who arrive with a spirit of adventure, ready to try anything – include Tiler Peck, Herman Cornejo, Lil Buck, Isabella Boylston, Calvin Royal III, Melissa Toogood. A more recent recruit is the young NYCB corps de ballet member Roman Mejia, who has expanded his repertory considerably each summer at Vail. Royal would have been the 2020 Artist in residence – a position which places a dancer in a dizzying range and number of works. The summer that Cornejo was artist in residence, he performed nine different roles, most of which were new for him.
When I was there in 2016, Michelle Dorrance was making her first VDF appearances. She joined forces with seemingly everyone and anyone – not only dancers but many of the top-flight musicians who provide live music for every performance — and has been back every summer.
The opening night program (July 31) includes the original 2016 cast of the first work she created at Vail, 1-2-3-4-5-6. This witty quartet brings together the diverse brilliance of Dorrance, Robert Fairchild, Toogood and Lil Buck in a thrilling exploration of rhythm
Tiler Peck has emerged as a choreographer at Vail; her second piece, Thousandth Orange, from last year, is also on the opening program. You can see Royal dance the Agon pas de deux with Unity Phelan, the divine Carla Korbes perform the last solo Balanchine created for Suzanne Farrell, and much more.
I will miss staring up at the majestic tall trees and inhaling the crisp mountain air, but I’ll gladly sit at my desk and enjoy these six virtual Vail performances. Those who do will likely be eager to book a flight for 2021. With any luck, life will no longer be virtual by then.
Vail Dance Festival: the Digital Edition | Vail Dance Festival’s YouTube and Facebook channels| July 31 – August 7, 6 pm Mountain Time