This week marks the 25th Anniversary of the Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado, renowned as a showcase for diversity: from ballet masterpieces, to new work by established and emerging choreographers, and dancers and companies from New York City to Seattle and beyond. It is also a place of experimentation: traditional dance styles can blend with novel forms of movement, often with eye-popping results. Prime example: Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, whose cross-pollination of the Memphis-born jookin' street dance and classical ballet has gained him worldwide acclaim.
At 25, he has toured with Madonna, performed with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and served as an artist-in-residence at Vail. His take on Dying Swan, developed with Memphis’s New Ballet Ensemble and School and founder Katie Smyth, embodies the essential mood of the original while demonstrating Riley’s exceptional musicality and mind-boggling footwork. Damian Woetzel, the festival’s artistic director and former New York City Ballet principal dancer explains, “With him it goes so far beyond the footwork, but, boy, that pointe work on sneakers and intricate movement—it is not even a technique that I understand.”
New work is a Vail hallmark. This summer, there are five world premieres, including a piece by modern dance maker Paul Taylor, set to Stephen Foster songs. Foster’s essential American style is about as far from tango music as it gets. In Colorado, the sensational tango dancers Gabriel Missé and Analia Centurión will step it up. “They epitomize a subtle excellence, coupled with an underlying raw power,” says Woetzel, “like a 500-horsepower engine that purrs.”
Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.
Kyle Avallone is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.