Calvin Royal III rehearsing Jamar Roberts’ “For Ulysses Dove” with BalletX at Vail Dance Festival 2021; photo Christopher Duggan
Dance Feature by Christopher Duggan | Calvin Royal III at Vail Dance Festival 2021
Long before I was a professional photographer, it was a dream of mine to photograph a dance festival.
This was long before I knew my wife, Nel Shelby, and long before I had any connection to the dance world. Don’t ask me why… I have no idea why that was one of my dreams. I guess I thought it sounded really cool.
This year, Vail Dance Festival asked me to be their Photographer for Festival 2021.
I’ve been coming to Vail participating for the last eleven years. Ten of which were with my wife and her video team.
Photographing Vail Dance Festival is such a thrill. From the time I landed in Colorado, I was in dance heaven.
Damian Woetzel and his team asked me to document everything I could from rehearsals during the day, to the performances at nighttime, to creative portraits in Vail Valley with the dancers.
And when I say “the dancers”, I mean: these are world-class, tippity-top of the world, just… the best dancers on the whole planet.
It’s really incredible to watch them work together. Being in the room where it happens has been a complete thrill for me.
Calvin Royal III & Isabella Boylston perform an excerpt from Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” at Vail Dance Festival 2021; photo Christopher Duggan
This year, Calvin Royal III was Vail Dance Festival’s 2021 Artist-In-Residence. My memories of his dancing go way back.
Calvin was a student at The School at Jacob’s Pillow many years ago in the Ballet Program. I remember “J.R.” pointing him out to me and saying he was going to be a star really soon. I think it was shortly after his time at Jacob’s Pillow that joined American Ballet Theatre.
The Pillow asked Calvin to do a special shoot with me that summer. I remember making some photos inside Sommers Studio. He jumped so high the rafters and the ceiling are a big part of the background. = )
He came back to the Pillow a couple of times since then and we made photos together in my Natural Light Studio and on the Inside/Out Henry J. Lier stage. That photo hangs in my home office.
At Vail Dance Festival, Calvin Royal III shined bright.
He was totally solid in everything he did, but something that really stuck out to me was the fact that Calvin is graceful as a dancer, but even more so as a human. He is kind and gentle and always approaches with a smile. He has a warmth to him that makes you feel like you’ve been friends for life.
Being in the room as choreographers like Jamar Roberts and Tiler Peck choreographed on him was unlike anything I have experienced. He incorporates the movement and technique while bringing his own special quality to the choreography. Even if you were in the way, way back of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheatre’s lawn, you would know when he’s onstage. Nobody moves like Calvin. Just beautiful.
Calvin Royal III & Isabella Boylston perform an excerpt from Christopher Wheeldon’s “This Bitter Earth” at Vail Dance Festival 2021; photo Christopher Duggan
Calvin Royal III & Unity Phelan perform in Balanchine’s “Agon” at Vail Dance Festival 2021; photo Christopher Duggan
Everyone loves working with Calvin Royal III, and in Vail’s UpClose Program, which featured him, each of his partners gushed about how generous he is as a dancer, how he brings himself to each work so fully, how he allows each of his partners to have a special, solid connection…. he’s just the best!!!
But, to watch Calvin and Unity Phelan together is one of those rare moments of otherworldly art being created. The chemistry they create together is unmistakable. I really can’t put it into words. I just get so excited to watch them dance together because it’s going to be special whatever they do.
Photographing them dancing After the Rain in rehearsal and then from backstage were my two highlights of the festival.
I was a witness from really close up the intimacy they share, the trust, the connection. Backstage especially, I was seeing them from a totally different angle.
The work was created to be seen from the front, so to photograph it from the side, I got to see little moments that the audience never sees. The way they hold each other…it’s just so hard to describe. Beautiful art-making that touches me, excites me, and makes me feel things that nothing else can. ❤️
Calvin Royal III & Unity Phelan perform Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” at Vail Dance Festival 2021; photo Christopher Duggan
Calvin Royal III & Unity Phelan perform an excerpt from George Balanchine’s “Apollo” at Vail Dance Festival 2021; photo Christopher Duggan
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