For 25 years, the Vail International Dance Festival (VIDF) has brought the best dancers and companies—from classic ballet to tango and modern—to the high country for a two-week celebration of movement. Recently, the festival has expanded outside those boundaries to educational programs and others events throughout the year, promoting the idea that accessibility to arts and culture helps communities grow and our children learn.

Before the anniversary season kicks off on July 28, we caught up with VIDF artistic director Damian Woetzel (pictured, right), a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet.

5280: Twenty-five years is a big deal. Can you reflect on that achievement?

DW: Milestones are a good time to take stock. You see what it’s been and what it is now. The very first official performance of the festival was called the “International Evening of Dance.” I was in that program as a dancer. To me [this year] is a culmination. The 25th anniversary is the sum of the parts that have come before: true ballet (Swan Lake Under the Stars) to world premieres to the dance of the moment (dance stars from TV).

5280: How do you choose which companies and dancers are involved each year?

DW: It’s important that there are no limitations as to what is good and exciting in dance. There are several criteria that I operate under. One is representing what I see as the best dancing in the world today. I look for certain dancers, certain new works, pieces that are indispensable. The [second] thing I always look for is to create opportunities to see things in Vail that you don’t get to see anywhere else: have a dancer from one company working with one from another company who ordinarily would never get to work together. The third is the idea of feeding the arts, having world premieres, something that’s never been seen.

5280: The dance scene in Colorado is pretty exciting. Do you try to mix in some local talent?

DW: Yes, I certainly look at opportunities to involve community always. Jonathan Royse Windham grew up here in Vail, now he lives in New York. This year is the first time he’s performing at the festival. I love the idea of that. It’s a great touchstone for the community to see how the work that’s gone on here over the last 25 years goes out and then comes back.

5820: Why should people make the trek to Vail?

DW: The variety of things that you’ll see from one night to the next is extreme, and it’s really a town full of culture during these weeks. It’s an encompassing experience. If you once took a tango lesson, come see some of the best tango dancers in the world, and they’ll be juxtaposed against the best ballet dancers in the world. Even if you have seen [some of] these dances elsewhere, it just isn’t the same because you’re surrounded by the mountains and pine trees.

Check back tomorrow for Woetzel’s—and my—picks for can’t-miss performances if you’re heading to Vail.

—Images, from top: Pacific Northwest Ballet, courtesy of Angela Sterling; Woetzel, courtesy of Bruce Weber

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at