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Image: Mark Royce

Vail’s reputation as the seasonal host for one of the nation’s premier dance festivals only continues to grow, with appearances by some of the brightest and most innovative stars in the field—this year, for instance, the legendary Mark Morris Dance Group makes its local debut. 

And while longtime supporters of the Vail International Dance Festival have found themselves ahead of the curve, so to speak, the rest of the country finally seems to have embraced both contemporary and classic dance—now available in convenient television formats.

The festival promises to dazzle with the usual array of ballet, tap, and ballroom staples, but the ongoing success of TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance brings things full circle, as some of the hottest young performers you’ve seen tearing up the floorboards on TV hit the stage in Vail and Beaver Creek.

The festival culminates with Dance TV, featuring 2011 artist-in-residence Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley and So You Think You Can Dance contestants Lauren Froderman (the season seven winner) and Allison Holker highlighting some of the hot moves they brought to the boob tube. The hip-hop-inspired Riley, who took a turn on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and has been featured in videos by performers such as Janelle Monae, will also debut an original work at the festival—do yourself a favor and Google Riley’s collaboration earlier this year with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, shot by director Spike Jonze.

The TV connection also ties back to several of the festival’s most prominent participants, including noted New York City Ballet dancer Tiler Peck, who gained mainstream acclaim for her work on Dancing with the Stars but is also one of the dance world’s truly noteworthy figures—and a festival favorite. Peck and other members of the NYC Ballet’s touring Ballet Moves ensemble will be featured in three shows this summer, including the July 31 opening-night extravaganza and 21st Century Moves. Ballet Moves’ crew will also grace the new edition of the festival’s innovative UpClose lecture-and-dance program, this year featuring The Male Dancer by Balanchine, a tribute to NYC Ballet founder George Balanchine.

Television has also been a friend to one of this festival season’s most anticipated artists and his renowned company, the unstoppable opera and dance director and choreographer Mark Morris. Morris’s Brooklyn-based Dance Group is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, and the outspoken artist brings a tasting menu of three of his company’s works, including Going Away Party, a raucous piece imaginatively set to the western swing music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Morris says he’s taking his anniversary in stride and adds that he’s happy to have finally been able to coordinate his schedule with the many, many requests from Vail International Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel. “Damian has been trying to get us to come since the first minute he was involved in the festival—he and I have known each other for seventy-five years or something like that,” Morris laughs. “And it comes at a great time. I have some new dancers joining me this year, with some sad goodbyes to people I’ve worked with for fifteen-plus years, and some scary hellos to make. But I feel great. I’m one of not enough people who gets to do exactly what I want to do. ... What a wonderful opportunity.”

Woetzel concurs. “Mark was my first teacher at the Boston School of Ballet in 1982, and I’ve always appreciated him for his big sense of history and his interest in passing along the traditions of ballet,” Woetzel says. “I love how he harnesses the power of music in a truly individual way, plus his sense of humor and his audacity—what a magnificent artist.” 

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