Damian Woetzel isn’t the first Easterner to have discovered his wilder side here in Colorado. As the Vail International Dance Festival’s (VIDF) artistic director since 2006, Woetzel—who spent more than two decades as the star of the conservative New York City Ballet—has helped create some of the country’s most innovative programs in recent years. Maybe the 49-year-old didn’t choreograph all the steps or perform the moves, but he has fostered burgeoning talent in need of a spotlight and provided a haven for proven names to take new turns. These are just a few of the artists happy to have found their ways onto Woetzel’s Colorado stage.

Christopher Wheeldon


Already a star choreographer, Wheeldon split with the NYC Ballet to found a company that would prove ballet didn’t have to be “a big, puffy, pink, glittery nightmare.” (This was huge, akin to LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach.) That outfit—Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company—debuted in Colorado and served as a resident ensemble at the illustrious New York City Center and Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London.

Lil Buck


After Woetzel spotted Charles “Lil Buck” Riley—whose “jookin” style of dance resembles a mix of ballet and Michael Jackson–esque moves—on YouTube, he paired the dancer, raised in Memphis, Tennessee, with acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma for a performance that filmmaker Spike Jonze recorded. Since then, Lil Buck has been VIDF’s artist-in-residence, danced at the Super Bowl, and appeared in Spike Lee’s movie Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks


Whelan was the favored daughter of the NYC Ballet; Brooks was a largely unknown choreographer. Matched by Woetzel, the duo created “First Fall,” in which Whelan collapses over and over onto Brooks. (It’s prettier than it sounds.) It inspired Whelan’s first independent program after leaving the NYC Ballet and legitimized Brooks, now choreographer-in-residence at Chicago’s renowned Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

If you go…

Dates: July 30 to August 13

Tickets: $10 to $150

Don’t miss: VIDF will celebrate Damian Woetzel’s 10th anniversary on August 3 with special performances by past and present artists-in-residence.