In the weeks leading up to the 2021 Vail Dance Festival many artists and organizers felt a mix of elation and trepidation. In a year when nothing felt certain, it was unclear how this ambitious version of the Vail Dance Festival, which sought to accomplish more in less time than ever before, would actually transpire amid all the challenges, and how it would be received by an audience that had not seen in-person Vail Dance Festival performances since August of 2019. All of those questions were answered on Opening Night, and a flood of gratitude and support lifted the 2021 Vail Dance Festival to new heights. 

Vail Dance Festival
Impact By the Numbers

in total performance ticket revenue
collective Instagram following of participating influencers
people from six different countries watched first-ever performance livestream
fringe events including Master Classes, Festival Forums, Tiny Dancer Tea Party & more
economic impact generated in the Town of Vail

The moves we make

Together again

Festival Artists in Rehearsal at the 2021 Vail Dance Festival. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

On July 30, 2021, Calvin Royal III looked out upon an empty stage from the wings of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and prepared to dance the solo from Balanchine’s iconic “Apollo”.

The black expanse of stage was only a few feet away from Royal at the time, but he later discussed (during a Festival Forum) how it seemed there was an invisible barrier before him, one that represented more than a year away from the stage, and which needed to be pierced in order to restore the bonds of connection between audience and artist that only come alive through the magic of an in-person performance.

For Royal, and for everyone involved in the 2021 Vail Dance Festival, the lead-up to the event left feelings of both trepidation and elation. No one really knew how it would all turn out. Who would show up? Would everything go smoothly? How will all of this feel after being away so long?

These questions were answered on that same Opening Night evening when Vail Dance Festival Artistic Director Damian Woetzel encapsulated the overwhelming emotion associated with the return of the Vail Dance Festival in a piece he choreographed called “Reunion 2021”. The piece opened the Festival, and featured nearly every dancer who would take part in in the 2021 Vail Dance Festival. It was lively, it was creative, it was joyful, and it re-connected people, piece by piece, moment by moment, to one another.

Royal, who was absolutely flawless in his Apollo solo, had a similar effect, dazzling everyone in attendance.

In fact, the waves and waves of cheers and ovations from the audience in response to “Reunion” (as well as during it), and to Royal’s Apollo, were as close a representation of pure human joy as had ever been heard at the Vail Dance Festival. It sounded euphoric, it sounded like the expression of pure relief, and yes there were even subtle undertones of remembered sadness, reflecting the terrible losses accompanying the global pandemic.

More than anything, the audience grew beyond the past, and expressed the recognition that the Vail Dance Festival was back … and it felt absolutely wonderful.

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There is nothing like the joy of uniting through dance and music, and the Vail Dance Festival 2021 reinforced that for artists and audiences in the most palpable ways. As our stages came alive, we all felt our shared humanity, and the creative energy was so strong— we were back, and it was an extraordinary moment in our history.

Damian Woetzel
Artistic Director, Vail Dance Festival

At the Vail Fest, there is no hierarchy. The fine art and the street art and the made-for-TV art are equal. The choreographers aren’t bosses, they are collaborators. The composers and musicians don’t serve as support staff, they are drivers of the new product that gets created every summer.

The Know
Denver Post

Throughout the night, audiences showed their appreciation with standing ovations, as everyone seemed to revel in the return of dance.

Kimberly Nicoletti
Vail Daily

Top Video: ‘Reunion 2021′ video by Nel Shelby Productions.
Photo carousel 1: Tiler Peck & Herman Cornejo perform Justin Peck’s Bloom; James Whiteside performs George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes; Mira Nadon & Christopher Grant perform George Balanchine’s Who Cares. Photos by Christopher Duggan.
Photo carousel 2: Festival Artists at rehearsal; Calvin Royal III & Mira Nadon rehearse during the UpClose performance; Festival Artists perform George Balanchine’s Who Cares. Photos by Christopher Duggan.

More than ever


An enormous range of dancers from the 2021 Vail Dance Festival joined the final piece on closing night: Cleo Parker Robinson’s moving and inspiring "Standing On the Shoulders” at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Photo by Chris Kendig.

The barriers broken down on Opening Night released a flood of gratitude that washed over the remainder of the 2021 Vail Dance Festival. It had taken more than a year of planning, changing plans, then changing plans again. Hundreds of people across a wide range of professions made adjustment after adjustment, time and time again, to help make the most operationally complex Festival in the event’s 30-plus-year history also its most successful.

At the 2021 Vail Dance Festival, more was done in less time than ever before. More Festival Forums, more Master Classes (double the normal offering), more free performances (four Dancing in the Streets and one Avon performance), more social events, and the always-popular Tiny Dancer Tea Party helped bring the Vail Dance Festival to life. The Vail Dance Festival also successfully hosted, for the first time ever, double-feature performances on International Evenings of Dance.

The effect of the Festival also expanded geographic boundaries. The October 2021 Fall for Dance event at New York City Center featured Vail Dance Festival performances, and the Empowering Boys in Dance Project hosted a national online choreography challenge and featured in-person Master Classes taught by Calvin Royal III and Dario Natarelli at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Boulder Ballet, and Colorado Conservatory of Dance. Also, breaking new ground, the livestreamed NOW: Premieres performance was watched by more than 2,000 people from six different countries.

The effort to ensure that everyone has access to dance continued: through our Community Arts Access program that offered tickets to local nonprofits, discounted tickets for students and faculty, as well as free lawn tickets for children under 12.

By the time the Vail Dance Festival was coming to a close it had regained its fast-moving, yet graceful, pace of activity and celebration. It was fitting, then, that the closing evening featured Cleo Parker Robinson’s “Standing on Shoulders,” and virtually all of the artists involved in the Vail Dance Festival were able to take the stage, and hear the ovations … together.

Those ovations heard each night were not only for the artists, but also for the Vail Dance Festival’s patrons, volunteers, and supporters who help the event come to fruition. The incredible positive impact of the 2021 Festival will be remembered for a long time to come. The exceptional support of the greater Vail Dance Festival community was the catalyst to create bonds that will last a lifetime, and moments that will be remembered for decades to come.

Photo Credits: (8) Festival Artists perform Standing on the Shoulders with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. (9) Isabella Boylston & James Whiteside perform Black Swan. (10) Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble performs Standing on the Shoulders. (11) BalletX performs Sunset, o639 Hours. (12) Vail Dance Festival Merchandise. (13) Lauren Lovette & Lil Buck perform Until We Meet Again. (14) Tiler Peck & Roman Mejia perform Alonzo King’s Swift Arrow. Photos by Christopher Duggan.