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Culture in the Vail Valley

THE ART OF DANCE

The Vilar Performing Arts Center’s winter dance sries is all about connection: with the art form as well as with one another

By Caramie Petrowsky

Dance is a living, breathing art form: nurture it, love it, support it and it will grow. As such, the future of dance depends on people — especially the younger generation — experiencing it and subsequently falling in love. 

Over the years, the Vail Valley Foundation has kept this courtship alive by spotlighting dancers of all types year round, hosting the renowned Vail Dance Festival every summer and a winter dance series at the Vilar Performing Arts Center (VPAC). 

 “There are so many things competing for young people’s attention these days,” says Sarah Johnson, the senior vice president of the arts and education at the Vail Valley Foundation. “However, few of them are as rewarding over the long term, few of them are as enriching and as positive an influence as engaging fully with the arts. Dance provides an incredible platform for both the audience and the artist to express themselves differently, to think differently and to engage with each other, the community and their beliefs differently. And that is critically important today.” 

This season, the VPAC hosts three daring and gravity-defying dance companies as part of its Winter Dance Series: Parsons Dance on Feb. 13; Pilobolus: Come to Your Senses on March 11; and Diavolo on March 25. 

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“Like all great dance companies, the companies we are presenting this winter continue to reinvent themselves,” says Duncan Horner, executive director of the VPAC. 

PARSONS DANCE | THURSDAY, FEB. 13 

Parsons Dance is known for its extraordinary physicality and precision, something Horner experienced firsthand when he saw the New York-based company showcase new work last January. 

“I was taken aback by the harmony amongst the dancers; they really are about as close to perfection as you could imagine when it comes to their precise synchronization, which allows you to become mesmerized by the art form in a very unique way,” he says. 

The February show will mark the fourth time Parsons Dance has performed in Beaver Creek over its 35-year history. David Parsons, recognized by the New York Times as “one of the great movers of modern dance,” founded the company in 1985 along with Tony award-winning lighting designer Howell Binkley. At the very center of Parsons’ work is a clear mission to connect with different people by continually looking at dance in different ways to prevent it from becoming monotonous. 

As such, VPAC audiences will experience a very eclectic program that includes three VPAC premieres. 

“Round My World” is set to looped solo cello music composed by Zoe Keating. In “Microburst,” contemporary dance is set to the ancient sounds of the tabla in an original commissioned score by Avi Sharma. “Nascimento” is named after the legendary composer Milton Nascimento who gifted the score to the company after watching them in Rio de Janeiro; it’s particularly close to Artistic Director David Parsons’ heart. 

“At the time Parsons Dance had absolutely no money and Mr. Nascimento produced this new work free of charge,” Parsons says. “I was so touched the least I could do is name the piece ‘Nascimento,’ which means birth in Portuguese.” 

The company will also perform the timeless “Caught,” an early work of Parsons where a dancer seems to walk on air. The iconic solo is set to the music of Robert Fripp and has been performed worldwide. 

“It’s a definite audience favorite because of the imagery of flying,” Parsons says. “It uses a strobe light to illuminate a dancer on a dark stage only at the top of their leap. This piece always elicits spontaneous gasps from the audience.” 

PILOBOLUS: COME TO YOUR SENSES | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11 

For 47 years, Pilobolus has explored the power of connected bodies. “They’re very physical and know how to engage an audience well by dialing up the element of theater in their choreographed work,” Horner says. 

Pilobolus returns to the VPAC with an invitation to theatergoers to engage with their senses with childlike wonder. Using plenty of theatrical elements, Come to Your Senses combines vintage company classics including “Gnomen and Symbiosis” and three brand new pieces interspersed with zany companyproduced videos meant to keep the audience immersed in Pilobolus’s world at all times. Their hope is the big screen keeps people from reaching for “that little screen in their pocket or purse,” says Matt Kent, the company’s cocreative director. “The show flows from live performance to dancers carrying, holding and moving the screen.” 

“Warp and Weft,” making its VPAC debut, was created in collaboration with indie rocker and host of Song Exploder podcast Thao Nguyen. 

“It is Pilobolus’s first ever all-woman trio,” Kent said. “The women of Pilobolus create a world where entities and identities overlap and interact, combine and divide in dynamic, humorous, and powerful ways. Out of the darkness, three characters emerge, join together, fight to stay connected, and eventually express their true identities in unity.” 

While creating the final piece of the program, “Branches,” the dancers and the artistic directors sought inspiration on a hike together. They took their time, slowing down to notice their surroundings. 

“Right now, we humans have found all these short circuits for our social and spiritual needs,” Kent says. “We think we are connecting but in fact we are more isolated than ever. The message of this show is about connecting to each other, about how amazing the world is when we just put down our phones and look around.” 

DIAVOLO | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25 

Dubbed “Architecture in Motion,” L.A.-based DIAVOLO presents contemporary dance laced with martial arts, acrobatics, gymnastics and hiphop. The performances, which are stories really, incorporate elaborate, somewhat shocking structures — a moon, a giant wheel and an enormous boat, for instance.

“DIAVOLO are the masters of acrobatic-dancing, using creative staging and structures to bring their creations to life in a gripping way,” Horner explains. “We haven’t seen them on our stage since they made it big on America’s Got Talent two years ago, so we’re thrilled to see how they’ve evolved since.” 

Artistic Director Jacques Helm likens the performance to a live abstract painting with themes that resonate with everyone: human struggle, survival, chaos, resilience, faith and love. Discovery and destination are the focus for the Beaver Creek show, which will showcase the brand new “Voyage” and signature piece “Trajectoire.” “The two pieces connect well together because it is impossible to find a new destination without discovery,” Helm says. 

In “Voyage,” an ode to the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and Helm’s most recent piece, a young woman wonders what it must be like to adventure to the moon. “She wants to escape from the ordinary world into a surreal landscape of infinite possibilities,” Helm says. 

“Trajectoire” is both a visceral and emotional journey. “It is a piece that celebrates women,” he says. “This work shows the transcendence of the human soul against all odds.” “Trajectoire” incorporates the aforementioned boat structure, something that proved challenging to choreograph, as the dancers got so seasick they had to take Dramamine. “To create just six seconds on the structure, it took us an hour,” Helm says. 

Just as in life, in the piece the dancers struggle to find their balance on their journey. 

“I want the audience to see that sometimes we feel lost with no purpose and we want to escape our own life to find answers when all we need to do is to look within our own self,” Helm says.  

“I was taken aback by the harmony amongst the dancers; they really are about as close to perfection as you could imagine when it comes to their precise synchronization.”

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