Near the end of Jerome Robbins’ 1969 piece, “Dances at a Gathering,” the six dancers begin to merely walk, after an hour of exuberant dancing. As the final strains of wistful Chopin piano music play, they meander and look around, as if to savor the last remnants of energy they have filled the space with. A male dancer pauses, center stage, kneels, and puts his hand on the floor. “This is home,” he seems to be showing us.
New York City Ballet has not performed in New York since March, 2020. For the New York City Ballet dancers who will perform “Dances at a Gathering” on July 30, opening night of the Vail Dance Festival 2021, it will be a return to home on many levels.
The 100% live, in-personal 2021 Festival, July 30-August 9, will be a reunion for veteran attendees like Calvin Royale III, from American Ballet Theater, this year’s Artist-in-Residence. The Festival has always been a chance for top dancers from top companies to hang out with each other and create new dance. What happens in Vail is often a collaboration that begins inside, in rehearsal studios a thousand miles away, in New York. In Colorado, at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, something special happens on the outdoor stage, surrounded by flowers and the sound of a river, with families on blankets watching from a grassy hillside under the stars.
Seven commissioned world premieres will be performed during the festival. Other highlights include the appearance of Maria Kowrowski, the NYCB star who will be retiring later this year. The Cleo Parker Robinson dance company, a trailblazing African-American group from Denver, will perform, celebrating their 50th Anniversary. Lil Buck will be jookin and BalletX, from Philadelphia, the company-in-residence, will offer fully staged company works. The opening weekend of the festival will feature New York City Ballet’s touring company MOVES. The list of performers include such illuminaries as Isabella Boylston, Herman Cornejo, Michelle Dorrance, Lil Buck, Joseph Gordon, Lauren Lovette, Roman Mejia, Ron Myles, Dario Natarelli, Cleo Parker Robinson, Tiler Peck, Unity Phelan, Cory Stearns, Devon Teuscher, Melissa Toogood, and James Whiteside. New York City Ballet’s Mira Nadon and the tapper Byron Tittle will be new participants during the summer. Musicians for the 2021 season will include the Festival’s Quartet-In-Residence Brooklyn Rider, pianist and music director Kurt Crowley, and singer/multi-instrumentalist Kate Davis. New music will be composed by Composer-in-Residence Caroline Shaw, Christina Courtin, Rhiannon Giddens, and Tyshawn Sorey.
In addition to the performances on the mainstage, the Vail Festival includes what they call “Fringe” events, including free performances, master classes and children’s events.