Vail lands highly sought dance troupe |

Vail lands highly sought dance troupe

Cassie Pence
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL ” From New York to London, everyone in the dance world is talking about Christopher Wheeldon.

He’s the 30-something, in-demand choreographer who left his cushy residency at the New York City Ballet to form his own dance company, called Morphoses, the Wheeldon Company.

Starting your own arts organization in America is no small undertaking, says Damian Woetzel, the new artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival. You have to raise funds, form a board, it’s a huge responsibility. But Wheeldon is the man to do it, Woetzel says, there’s no question he has the talent.

The buzz surrounding Wheeldon lands in Vail this summer, as Morphoses will make its world debut at the dance festival.

“In my mind, that puts Vail in a very special position,” Woetzel says. “We’re very lucky to set the stage for him right at the beginning.”

This summer’s dance festival is Woetzel’s first as artistic director, but he’s very familiar with the two-week event. He has danced in it many times, representing the New York City Ballet, where he’s worked as a soloist and a choreographer. His experience on stage gives him an interesting vantage point. As a performer, Woetzel knows what works, and knows where the festival needs improvement.

Introducing the hottest company in dance is just half of the excitement you can expect from him. “Part of what I am trying to do is to make sure that Vail is getting the best in the world in contemporary dance and what’s happening right now in dance,” Woetzel says. “Chris Wheeldon is making something that week and showing it, that is the highest possible ‘today.'”

Morphoses’ official launch is Friday, Aug. 10, at the Ford Amphitheater. The company will host an up close and personal preview Wednesday, Aug. 8, at the Vilar Center. The evening is still a work in progress, but it will be slightly experimental, Woetzel says. The audience will play a major role.

Engage the audience Woetzel and Wheeldon both share a vision of dance where there is an immediacy with the audience. That old model, where the austere troupe came in, they danced and then they left, is fleeting, Woetzel says. There is worry among professionals that the traditional dance audience is aging, and the young aren’t interested. Woetzel doesn’t think it’s that doom and gloom, but he does feel interaction is key.

“You have to engage your generations in different ways, and what worked 50 years ago isn’t exactly what works today, and it shouldn’t for a reason,” Woetzel says. “I want the audience to grow to love things and learn about things, and the way to do that is interaction.”

Dance companies will have longer residencies under Woetzel’s direction. Troupes will stay for a week, rather than two nights, and will dance multiple performances. It’s part of Woetzel’s effort to build audience interest.

Know the troupes, love the dance Imagine if the Philharmonic only came for two shows, he says. How much would the audience really get out of it? A small stint at a theater never gives you the depth of a full residency, where you hear might Brahms one night, Shykofsky one night and then an evening of real contemporary composers, he says.

“And you get a real sense of what music can be in this day and age, all possibilities, all played by incredible musicians,” Woetzel says. “I want the same principle for the dance festival, where I have a company come for a number of performances, showing diversity of repertoire, where the audience can get to know and love the performers. They get to know more about the history and heritage, as well as what’s new.”

The Pacific Northwest Ballet, led by director Peter Boal, will bring its 44 members for almost a week stay and three performances. It’s Woetzel’s first residency test case, he says. They’ll be hanging around town, and the public will get to interact with them for a special experience.

The troupe will kick off the festival Sunday, July 29, with a celebration of American dance, featuring George Balanchine’s western-flavored “Square Dance,” Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night” and Twyla Tharp’s “Nina Sinatra Songs.”

“Their biggest strength is many ways is there repertoire. They do it all,” Woetzel says. The show will double as a tribute to President Ford, who along with Mrs. Ford, helped to start the dance festival and continue to support it.

“So it’s only fitting that we dedicate opening night to his memory,” Woetzel says. “Without the Fords, there might not be a Vail International Dance Festival.”

More live music and old favorites For the first time, Bravo! musicians will play live for the dancers during opening night. Incorporating as much live music into the festival is extremely important to Woetzel. Bravo! is lending a few musicians this year, and he hopes to expand on that, working eventually toward housing an entire orchestra to play with the dancers.

International Evenings of Dance returns to the festival for two nights, Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3-4, and Ballroom’s Best returns, showcasing tango, rumba and cha cha.

“It’s the best of everything, really,” Woetzel says. “There’s very little limitations, as long as it’s excellent.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User