Meet Vail Dance Festival artist-in-residence Michelle Dorrance |

Meet Vail Dance Festival artist-in-residence Michelle Dorrance

Sarah Silverblatt-Buser
Special to the Daily
AUGUST 2, 2016, VAIL, CO - Dorrance Dance. Vail International Dance Festival, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano/Vail International Dance Festival
Erin Baiano | Special to the Weekly |

If you go ...

What: Vail Dance Festival.

Where: Performances at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail; Vilar Performing Arts Center at Beaver Creek; and the Avon Performance Pavilion.

When: July 29-Aug. 12.

More information: Visit

Catch her if you can: Michelle Dorrance is a tap dancer for the 21st century. From performances in San Francisco, Hong Kong, London and a premiere event at the Guggenheim Rotunda in New York City, the Vail Dance Festival is fortunate to welcome her as our 2017 artist in residence.

For two weeks, the MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient infuses the Festival with her quick wit and nimble physicality.

Equal parts choreographer, mover and music maker, Dorrance first made her mark as one of the only women cast members in the famed musical STOMP. And while the days using brooms and lighters to create complex rhythms may be largely behind her, Dorrance continues to pursue new music-making methods. For “ETM: Double Down,” which will be presented on Aug. 10 at Beaver Creek’s Vilar Performing Arts Center, Dorrance collaborated with longtime friend and company member Nicholas Van Young to incorporate his electronic tap boards, brilliantly creating an instrument out of the dance floor to make music with a live band.

“The crux of my inspiration is music,” Dorrance said. “The music of our dancing, of tap dance, period.”

A deep respect for music has always characterized the Vail Dance Festival, so it is fitting that artistic director Damian Woetzel chose to highlight Dorrance as a groundbreaking choreographer vitalized by sound.

“Michelle embodies this understanding of rhythm, but she takes it to another level,” said Madeline Grande, a tap teacher at Avon’s Studio 8100 who trained with Dorrance at both the D.C. and L.A. tap festivals. “Taking class from her meant more than choreography and fast feet. It was a full mental and physical experience, immersing ourselves in what we were creating.”


Collaboration is another feature shared by the Vail Dance Festival, and Dorrance describes herself as being driven toward “experimentation, exploration and collaboration with other artists.”

Recalling a project she did with the Martha Graham Modern Dance Company, which will be performed at the festival on Aug. 11, Dorrance recognized the opportunity as “a blessing to be able to work with those bodies and those sensibilities … creating percussive work for non-percussive dancers.”

Beyond genre-bending, Dorrance finds fascination in the wide range of gender roles and ambiguity available to tap dancers.

“There is this great and strange partnership between men and women, women and women, men and men, that allows dancers to both dance in a social coupling form and then also side by side,” Dorrance said. “It’s also really nice to live in a world of androgyny.”

Going Further

With an improviser’s ability to make something out of anything, Dorrance’s creations for the stage embody a boundless notion of play. It is her reciprocal approach when working with collaborators, distilling mutual exchanges of inspiration into constant creative fuel, that reveals Dorrance’s bottomless well of potential.

“Her commitment to unapologetically go further,” Grande said, “doing things with rhythm that I can’t even quite understand,” bring audiences to new possibilities of music and dance.

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