Philadelphia ballet dancers at Vail on a Rocky Mountain high

Dancing in the pines: The women of BalletX performed Matthew Neenan's "Switch Phase" at Vail in 2012, and the company is invited back this year - along with nearly every other Philadelphia professional ballet dancer.
Dancing in the pines: The women of BalletX performed Matthew Neenan's "Switch Phase" at Vail in 2012, and the company is invited back this year - along with nearly every other Philadelphia professional ballet dancer. (ERIN BAIANO)
Posted: July 28, 2014

Philadelphia in the Rockies?

"It'll be so beautiful there!" Amy Aldridge says, thinking of dancing with a tall, dark stranger among the pines.

Aldridge and nearly every other Philadelphia professional ballet dancer will be dancing outdoors in Colorado this week at the Vail International Dance Festival. The Pennsylvania Ballet and BalletX were invited to perform in one of the season's most prestigious summer dance festivals, which opens Sunday night.

"It's sort of our Philadelphia story," says Damian Woetzel, artistic director of the festival and a retired star from the New York City Ballet. "I didn't set out to do it that way."

BalletX danced in the festival in 2012, and this time, Woetzel asked it back as a resident company.

Woetzel was long familiar with the Pennsylvania Ballet, which on Tuesday named former American Ballet Theatre star Angel Corella its new artistic director. Woetzel thought the company's 50th anniversary was the right time to feature it in Vail, and the troupe offered repertory he wanted to present, including Balanchine's Jewels, which he saw in October at the Academy of Music.

On opening night, the Pennsylvania Ballet will perform just the "Rubies" section of Jewels, with Tiler Peck from City Ballet and Herman Cornejo   from the American Ballet Theatre guesting in the principal roles. Later in the week, the company will dance the full ballet.

For Aldridge, a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet, the tour will be extra special. Her tall, dark partner will be Robert Fairchild, a star from the New York City Ballet; the two were tapped to dance a pas de deux in Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto, another Woetzel request.

Ballet dancers often get little notice or rehearsal time for new roles, but Aldridge got even less prep. She found out about the duet two weeks ago and was to get only one half-hour rehearsal with her new partner this weekend in Vail. Still, she's thrilled.

"I'm not worried about it at all," Aldridge says of the nine-minute dance with Fairchild, who is also Peck's husband of one month. "He can probably do it with his eyes closed; for him, it will be a walk in the park. I hear he's a really amazing partner."

Meanwhile, she spent the last two weeks rehearsing at Philadelphia's String Theory School (temporary digs while the School of Pennsylvania Ballet takes over its studios with summer classes) with Jong Suk Park, with whom she danced this role in February at the Academy of Music.

Woetzel says mixing and matching among companies is "very much the theme of the festival."

"For dancers, I really love and want to further their careers. It's [also] incredible for the company to have new blood. When it becomes apparent that it's not just a normal gig: That's what we can do. The sun will set and you'll do 'Serenade.' "

Indeed, Aldridge will be dancing the part of the Russian girl in "Serenade" after just the short intermission that follows the Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

Jermel Johnson, another Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer, also gets the gift of a new dance partner in Vail. He was teamed with City Ballet soloist Lauren Lovette for a short pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia.

Johnson never danced or remembered seeing that duet, and also was to get just a half-hour rehearsal with Lovette in Colorado. He was scheduled to learn it with a video and stand-in partner in Philadelphia a few days before flying out.

"I've been kind of 'go with the flow,' " Johnson said, laughing. "I think she [Lovette] has done it before, and hopefully I'll learn it well enough so that I don't knock her over. I hear she's amazing to work with and a beautiful dancer."

During the week, Johnson will also dance with a Lauren he knows better, Lauren Fadeley, "who is like my favorite dancer." They have the second pas de deux in Stravinsky Violin Concerto alongside Aldridge and Fairchild.

For Fadeley, it's all in the family. Her husband, Francis Veyette, is the brother of Andrew Veyette, who is married to Fairchild's sister Megan. Fairchild and Peck married in June. All are principal dancers: Fadeley and Francis Veyette in the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Fairchilds, Andrew Veyette, and Peck in the City Ballet.

Johnson also got married in June, to his longtime partner, David Jackson.

BalletX has a bit of a leg up, going to Vail for a repeat performance that bodes well for the young company. As resident company, they will be performing many times throughout the run, including in a new work by cofounder Matthew Neenan, with guests Peck and Robert Fairchild.

Neenan will be well-represented in Vail, as the Pennsylvania Ballet - where he recently finished a seven-year stint as choreographer in residence - will also present one of his pieces. He and Woetzel go way back.

"Matt is someone I'd known since we were kids in Boston," Woetzel says. In one Nutcracker, "I was Fritz, his sister was Clara, and that was her little brother [Neenan about age 6]. He's someone that I just think is such a talented and interesting voice."

Less than two weeks ago, in that same ballet spirit of short prep time, he began choreographing his new not-yet-named 18-minute premiere for BalletX, Peck, and Fairchild, to a Schubert string quintet.

"It'll be very lush, dramatic, and romantic," Neenan says. "I'll put some of my little narratives in there later."

He had most of the piece mapped out and was to set it on his company in Philadelphia before teaching Peck and Fairchild their roles in Colorado. His new piece will highlight the guests but will be an ensemble work featuring all his dancers, including three who are leaving the company this season. After last time, he is eager to go.

"We had a really successful time there," Neenan says of BalletX's 2012 outing. "There were great crowds."

Vail, it seemed, loved them back.

"I'm really looking forward to the Philadelphia story," Woetzel says.


edunkel@philly.com

@edunkel

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