In Tahoe, for Dance Festival 1

stephen hanna, photo: erin baiano

“There will be bears in Tahoe,” Festival intern Summer Hatcher warned me — a dance writer who has never lived beyond a five-mile radius from a performing arts center. As we departed Reno Airport, she explained that I should wave arms at the creatures. Summer was navigating Interstate 80’s sweeping curves with exponentially stunning vistas as Nevada became California. All fears melted at the sight of the lake — glistening, turquoise, humongous — the nation’s largest fresh-water one, formed oh-so-many years ago by a humongous glacier footprint in mother earth. For the past eleven years, at its northern tip, this much-revered body of water is ground zero of the Lake Tahoe Dance Festival, tonight on the cusp of its eleventh season.

Yes, there would be bears. But there would also be the dashing Adrian Danchig-Waring. Since 2013 a principal dancer of New York City Ballet, Danchig-Waring, called by critic Marina Harss “stylish and stylized” and a “beautiful, very articulate dancer,” he tops the roster of invited guest artists brought to Tahoe by Festival co-founder/directors Christin Hanna and Constantine Baecher. The visitors, accomplished dance professionals, mix amiably (there are no ‘airs’ save for the soft breezes the lake emits) with local dance students in a week-long dance party. This labor of love will culminate tonight on an outdoor stage set in a woodsy glen looking out to the lake. The stage floor is by Marley, and the lighting comes dappled by the setting sun through fir and pine trees. It is a glorious sight.

The mixed-bill that constitutes Lake Tahoe Dance Festival’s 2023 edition includes works by six choreographers, on whom we will focus after the gala showcase. The program will be repeated in three encore performances running through Saturday night.

Two groups of local dancers bring pleasure to the program. The younger cohort pads delectably in lengthy 19th century tutus in a mean rendition of Les Sylphides. The more advanced, older students flow, with charm, surprising confidence, and musicality (in their pointe shoes), through choreography by Daniel Baudendistel, a wonderful former dancer with American Ballet Theatre and The Joffrey Ballet who has devoted his life to classical ballet, giving back and instructing youngsters. He has so much to give.

It’s a rich roster. Catching my eye is Boston Ballet principal dancer Lia Cirio, a sinewy vixen with staggeringly stretched legs and impeccable placement. Ably partnered by Paul Craig, wow, she is fierce. I like the look of Amber Neff, whose punky affect belies a soft touch on stage and a deep commitment to her classical line. Dwayne Brown uses every inch of his towering height as her chivalrous partner. Ashley Bouder, the great bright light of New York City Ballet, dances an intriguing duet with an equally experienced modern dancer Kristina Berger. Stephen Hanna, who taught company class with his newborn baby on board, dances a solo number, as does Kyle Limin.

amber neff, dwayne brown, choreographer holly curran

Beyond the dance program on offer, something even more magical than tendues and high extensions is happening in Tahoe City. It’s community. A ‘Young Dancer’s Workshop’ wraps at Festival-end. The hustle-bustle of rehearsals, master classes, networking, are all played with a cool hand by the Fest’s low-key directors. A generous ‘welcome’ dinner has Christin Hanna in an elegant flowing orange hostess jumpsuit serving up platters of burgers and ribs. The next morning, now in running sneakers and a muscle tee, she’s opening the studio for morning class, carting speakers, cords, paraphernalia-and-people to and from the performance venue. Then, mid-afternoon, up she pops in a bikini for a restorative plunge in the lake. When directors work and play this hard, participants step up. That, to my eye, forms the spark that makes the Lake Tahoe Dance Festival endure. May it live on!

Lest we forget … Adrian! Danchig-Waring is dancing a solo crafted by a choreographer who makes marvelous work for male dancers, Lar Lubovitch. More on this, and a few notes on choreography tomorrow ….

Dance critic Debra Levine’s feature articles, reviews, and interviews have been published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, DANCE Magazine, EMMY Magazine, South China Morning Post, and more. She is the author of an upcoming biography of the choreographer Jack Cole.

Lake Tahoe Dance Festival | Tahoe City California | opens tonight through Saturday

One comment on “In Tahoe, for Dance Festival

  1. Susan Reiter Jul 30,2023 12:32 am

    It’s great to get your lively report about this event which I previously only knew about from press releases.its scope is intriguing and impressive, especially taking the program on the road to various locales in the area. I remember Baudendistel as a dancer very well (so tall, how could one forget?) so it’s nice to learn what he’s up to. And Hanna has turned up in a number of Broadway musicals since leaving NYCB.

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