The ripple effect: Dance festival closes but new works continue on

Monday night’s “NOW: Premieres” concluded the Vail Dance Festival for the season, but the creative collaboration it generated continues on as dancers perform works, which debuted Monday night, throughout the nation.

“New premieres is what the Vail Dance Festival is all about,” said Mike Imhof, president of the Vail Valley Foundation. “It’s the end of the two-week festival … (which supported) an endless melting pot of creativity.”

The sentiment of dancers backstage was bittersweet as the festival came to a close.

“It feels like we just got started connecting with all of you,” artistic director Damian Woetzel said to the audience Monday night. “It’s a juxtaposition … this is just the beginning of the next idea. It’s all about that next step of what might be.”

Monday’s “NOW: Premieres” debuted seven new works, some of which highlighted new compositions. Last year, violinist Johnny Gandelsman had commissioned 22 new pieces reflecting life in 2020 as part of his “This Is America” project, and Vail Dance Festival collaborated on three of them. Composer-in-residence (and also the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize) Caroline Shaw also debuted her new composition, “Bloom.”

Monday’s program crackled with a range of choreography, music and emotion. It began with “A Perpendicular Expression,” as American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet (NYCB) dancers fused classical and contemporary ballet, accompanied by Jacek Mysinski on piano. The piece moved through a variety of tones, including dramatic, sexy and playful, as dancers coupled, weaved among each other, constructed appealing shapes and leapt and flipped in formations. One especially playful and humorous moment occurred as Corey Stearns, Devon Teuscher and James Whiteside masterfully performed grand pirouettes in a triangle, then fell to the ground.

Lil Buck and Lauren Lovette gave audiences a sneak peek at their piece, “Until We Meet Again,” during last Wednesday’s “UpClose” show, and Monday night, they brought the piece to fruition. As Gandelsman played violin to “Stroon,” composed by Christina Courtin (part of the “This Is America” project), Buck and Lovette depicted their friendship through dance. Buck stepped out of his comfort zone, performing new lifts and holds as he partnered with Lovette, who also stretched her boundaries as the two explored the movement theme of tutting: When they first met eight years ago, Buck taught Lovette an arm tutting sequence she never forgot, so they used the pattern as a foundation to choreograph the piece. As the two merged completely different dance styles, their individuality, as well as their connection, came through beautifully. When not performing graceful holds and lifts or tutting, each stepped aside to watch, and obviously admire, the other’s dance style. The end was especially touching, as each walked their separate ways off stage — until they meet again.

“And So” featured music by Caroline Shaw, performed by her and quartet-in-residence Brooklyn Rider. Shaw also sang lyrics revolving around time: “a rose is a rose is how I’m keeping track of time … and so we stay on borrowed time.” At the end, instrumental plucking transformed into a feeling of time ticking away. Meanwhile, artist-in-residence Calvin Royal III joined dancers from NYCB in a classical and modern ballet piece as they became musicians of the body, full of strength, power and energy.

Audiences at Saturday’s “International Evenings of Dance II” caught a preview of “New to the Session,” and the eight dancers delivered a rousing performance to new music by Rhiannon Giddens (also part of “This Is America”). The bluegrassy, Celtic style music and casually-dressed group piece was reminiscent of a jamboree that could’ve taken place on the lower level of the Titanic, where regular people cut up the floor and have a blast together. Buck and Ron Myles added their street dance moves to the mix, and Dario Natarelli danced up a frenzy as the music reached its crescendo.

After intermission, “For Ulysses Dove” packed an emotional punch. What began as three BalletX dancers dressed in red moving through long, extended lines suddenly turned into a blast of seven more dancers rushing on stage like ants. The scurry literally caused the audience to audibly react, evidence that the emotional choreography landed. The piece gorgeously wove solos, which felt like long, deep breaths, and contrasting group moments. The choreography and the way dancers expressed it seemed so polished and mature, it was hard to believe choreographer Jamar Roberts had just completed it in June. His choreography masterfully matched times when the violin frantically screeched, as part of composer Tyshawn Sorey’s newly commissioned work (again, part of “This Is America”). It was a testament to how effective movement can be when paired with live music.

“Bloom,” featuring new music by Shaw, gorgeously showcased NYCB’s Tiler Peck and American Ballet Theatre’s Herman Cornejo. The two paired in a classical ballet piece so lovely and robust that it was hard to believe they perform with two separate companies.

The night ended with a rousing piece by Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, accompanied by BalletX, Buck, Myles other festival dancers. It began with a poignant solo, followed by a trio of dancers undulating, rotating and eliciting feelings you could feel down to your core, then developed into a soulful celebration.

The piece, “Standing on the Shoulders,” represented how we all stand on the shoulders of others — those who have gone before, as well as those still living. Through initially downtrodden moves, which ultimately transformed into an uplifting celebration, the choreography illustrated how people inspire us to “move beyond darkness into a place of joy,” according to the dance description. It continued: “With many voices but one spirit, let us be willing to offer the strength of our own shoulders and to receive the support of others in return.” Dancers depicted not only the pain we all experience, but also the strength “we achieve through the power of one breath. The balance between uplifting those around us, and allowing ourselves to be uplifted in turn, is the path that leads us towards a higher state of grace. Let us stand together in gratitude.”

And, indeed, the night embodied a sense of togetherness, collaboration, creativity and gratitude for the arts. Cleo Parker Robinson Dance company and all of the festival dancers who joined in at the end closed out the season with a high note and a jazzy celebration.