The last day of the Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC at New York City Center was an afternoon dance workshop. It was also the day of the NYC Marathon so I saw a lot of people in their shorts and t-shirts wrapped in blankets walking down Sixth Avenue. This time I was in the Grand Tier (yay!) but all the way over on the right side (boo!).
Artistic Director Damian Woetzel walked out and I was the first one to start clapping. I don’t know if others in the audience knew who he was. The program was titled UpClose: Footwork. Woetzel explained that he did these UpClose workshops every year at Vail focusing on different types of dance or specific dancers or choreographers. For this UpClose, the focus would be footwork. From the Playbill: “The late Stanley Williams (1925-1997) was a renowned ballet instructor who trained generations of the world’s greatest dancers at the School of American Ballet in New York. Festival Director Damian Woetzel recalls Williams’ classes as church-like, quiet and intense, with a special emphasis on footwork – subtle, deft, and speedy, advancing ballet technique from proficient to refined. This special UpClose performance focuses on the kind of footwork Williams’ teaching inspired, featuring a selection of dancers, each one demonstrating a different style of dance.”
Woetzel talked about his time with Williams and he gave some history of footwork from ballet and point work, which is done not only by ballerinas but also dancers like Fred Astaire, Savion Glover, and Lil Buck. He mentioned Georgian dancers who do incredible footwork that includes point work. And, of course, the Nicholas Brothers who were footwork personified. He showed some film of Astaire and others dancing. In talking about history, he mentioned how a woman dances differently in a tutu then she does in a chiffon skirt (1970s). And then there’s the bare feet of modern dance, which is now used in ballet, where you have a different relationship with the floor since your bare feet are touching the floor. Pure dance has an element of simplicity and aspiration. Then it was time for more show than tell.
He brought out Carla Körbes to dance at the barre. From fifth position, he had her do some steps. Sometimes he would fix her leg and when he would demonstrate, he would lift his leg only so far but when she imitated him, her leg would go up so far that her knee was practically touching her nose. There was a woman on piano and (I think) her name was Ivy. Woetzel would ask for a melody, she’d play, and then he’d say, “Less notes,” and she’d play the same thing with fewer notes.
I can’t tell from my notes if Heather Watts, a former ballet dancer (and Woetzel’s wife if I have the correct Heather, which it’s possible I don’t), came out to have Körbes or Tiler Peck dance steps for Dewdrop (The Nutcracker), which Heather was well-known for.
He excused and thanked Körbes and brought Peck out to dance with Cameron Grant on piano. Peck moved up quickly through the corps and she is famous for her toe work. It’s as if Peck stops time when she’s dancing. She spun around and around and around and around and around and around. Is it Dewdrop who spins around and around?
For both dancers, it was pretty cool to see them execute a step from fifth position after Woetzel made a simple command or moved his arm or leg a certain way. And it was interesting to watch him correct them and to be able to see how important a turn of the wrist or the ankle is.
When Woetzel took the barre away he said, “I’ll move the barre because that’s what boys do in class. They move the barre.” Robert Fairchild came out and danced with Peck.
Woetzel explained about tango and how it came from the street and that’s why the feet move the way they do – the dance started on cobblestones. Gabriel Missé and Carla Espinoza came out. Missé explained to Woetzel how he communicates to Espinoza – how he moves his elbow tells her what to do with her left leg and how he moves his hand tells her how to move her right leg. As I explained in my write-up in their dance the night before, their legs move so fast that you can barely see what they’re doing. They danced again, giving us another demonstration of their otherworldly footwork.
Fairchild came out in his tap shoes to show off different steps including the soft shoe. He performed the tap solo from Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue with Grant on piano. He also tapped with Kate Davis on piano (Destruction Moon? – not sure).
Flamenco dancer Elena Heiss came out in a knee-length black dress. Woetzel questioned her about flamenco and she said she’s always looking for shading and meaning in the steps. Roberto Lorca’s Zapateado started with Lil Buck coming on stage to hand her a pole, which she banged on the floor along with the banging of her heels. Then she got rid of the pole and continued to dance. It’s a beautiful dance.
Matthew Rushing explained to Woetzel how he does the steps in Revelations. Woetzel said he could watch Rushing walk upstage over and over again. Judith Jamison had explained to Rushing that Alvin Ailey grew up in the South and when you were baptized in the river you would have to walk into the muddy bank. If you hesitated or stepped too hard, your feet would sink into the mud. So, your steps had to be subtle – you had to place your feet carefully. And that’s how he walks on the stage for that dance. Woetzel said he will forever remember the muddy bank whenever he sees Rushing do those steps in Revelations.
Fang-Yi Sheu did a piece that starts on a cube and she moves across the stage by walking and other ways. Sheu says she dances as if she’s keeping her weight off her feet. The entire dance is done in silence.
Rushing came out to perform the solo adaptation of Ronald K. Brown’s Ife/My Heart and it was just as fun and exciting as it had been the night before. I do have a love for those African-Cuban rhythms and steps.
Charles “Lil Buck” Riley came out and did a demonstration of jookin’, choppin’, and buckin’. First Lil Buck was jookin’ to Sandeep Das on tabla (Das called it the flamenco and tap of India). Then Lil Buck and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles were jookin’ to Budget Bulgar (choreographed by Lil Buck, Myles, and Woetzel) with the Catalyst Quartet, Davis on stand-up bass, and Cristina Pato on gaita.
Peck and Fairchild danced the adagio from Balanchine’s Apollo with Grant on piano in the pit. It was as beautiful and sexy as it had been the other two nights. And it was a wonderful way to end the afternoon.
All photos are from the NY City Center site:
Lil Buck, Ron Myles, and Damian Woetzel in rehearsal:
Herman Cornejo and Damian Woetzel at the Vail International Dance Festival:
By Carene Lydia Lopez