But, unfazed by the alleged "stuffiness" the uninitiated think is a necessary characteristic of the ballet audience, the baseball-cap-coiffed gentleman sitting next to me at the Vail International Dance Festival was tucking into a mustard-drizzled sausage on a bun before the show. On my other side, a couple of women were clutching a bottle of wine and two plastic cups. Behind us, beyond the covered seating area, the lawn of the Gerald Ford Amphitheater was chockablock with picnicking dance lovers.
This informality is just one of the things that make watching dance in Vail such a unique experience. You would think you were about to see the local high school musical... except that the performers at VIDF include some of the top names in international ballet. This year we were treated to such stars as Sara Mearns, Yuan Yuan Tan, Isabella Boylston, Tiler Peck, Misty Copeland, Herman Cornejo, Misa Kuranaga,and Wendy Whelan, plus more, including New York City Ballet's Joseph Gordon, a corps de ballet member you should definitely keep an eye on (see his airborne jumps at the beginning of this video):
The other characteristic of VIDF is its remarkably eclectic programming, thanks to its Artistic Director, former New York City Ballet star Damian Woetzel. Memphis jookin rubs shoulders with Romeo and Juliet, 19th century Romanticism meets Alvin Ailey's Revelation, and that one-man versatility machine, Balanchine, is represented in all his guises: black and white, tutu, classical virtuosity, beautiful lyricism, Tchaikovsky to Stravinsky to Gershwin to Sousa. Speaking of versatility, I am convinced that NYCB's Tiler Peck can do ANYTHING and make it look stunningly gorgeous. She took my breath away in both the Midsummer Night's Dream excerpt and in Who Cares?
Another standout, as always, was Sara Mearns, in Alexei Ratmansky's Fandango. Unfortunately her breath was literally taken away, as she succumbed to altitude sickness after her performance (Vail is above 8,000 ft) and had to be flown to sea level and a few days in hospital. It's not for nothing that oxygen tanks are kept backstage for the dancers.
Another aspect that makes Vail a must-visit for the ballet lover is the beautiful setting. In the videos above and in this picture from Sara Mearns' instagram,
you can see the amazing "backdrop" of the stage: a planting of living flowers interspersed between six Colorado (naturally!) Blue Spruce trees. To get to the theatre from the bus stop you cross the cascading Gore Creek by means of this charming covered bridge (one of several in Vail).
Best known as a ski resort, it is hard to imagine how the town could be more beautiful in winter than in summer. Created artificially out of sheep-grazing pasture in 1964, Vail certainly has a faux-German/Swiss look to it, and is not like a normal town in that it is all hotels and restaurants.
But it is so tastefully done, and so bedecked with flowers, art, fountains, and streams, that one cannot help but fall under its charm. Idyllic is the word that comes to mind. Walking through the village on its pedestrian streets, one cannot take a turn without finding yet another beautiful hidden garden. They seem to have a "leave no space unlandscaped" attitude in Vail. Flowers cascade out of windowboxes. Bronze sculptures of bears, moose, and other wildlife lurk among the flowerbeds. Wind sculptures spin in the breeze:
A fantastic treelike light sculpture cycles through a myriad of colours. The walls of the many fountains and artificial waterfalls reveal more hidden wildlife:
And then there are the natural watercourses: Gore Creek cuts through the village, burbling over rocks in its shallow bed, its ripples sparkling in the sun. Various rivulets join it along its course, so the sound of rushing water is never far away.
On summer Sundays, an open-air market offering food and handicrafts takes over the pedestrian streets, and live jazz is on offer.
Up near the theatre, the Betty Ford Alpine garden is another haven of tranquil beauty:
You can take one of the two gondola ski lifts up another 2000 feet for a spectacular panoramic view of the mountains.
"The Vail festival spoils dancegoers. We start to feel that every theater should be surrounded by pine-clad mountains and approached by a path featuring a rushing river (and at least one hummingbird). There are other reasons to pay heed to the Vail International Dance Festival, but this plenitude and diversity of talent alone makes it extraordinary." Alastair Macaulay, "Vail International Dance Festival Sets Itself Apart With an Enchanting Lineup" New York Times, 11 August 2015
The Vail International Dance Festival. Not to be missed. You should go next year!
Tours en l'air will be offering a trip to Vail in 2016, August 5-8, to see the International Evenings of Dance. Further programming and dancers participating will be announced in February. Booking will open in early March.
If you love ballet, please check out my season of outstanding ballet trips by clicking here.
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