His partner here was Melissa Toogood, who danced with Cunningham’s company from 2007 to 2011, its final five years. Mr. Cornejo, bringing exceptional spring to his jumps, seemed to relish its slow falls off balance and upper-body complexities, too. The intricacy of each dance phrase became newly fascinating. Ms. Toogood — luscious, sharp, powerful — displayed all her role’s physical self-contradictions. Best of all, both of them kept everything suspenseful; the duet seemed far too short. Adventures of this kind are what has made Vail legendary in today’s dance world.
These two evenings, presented in the open-air Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, demonstrate an even larger achievement. The festival, running through Saturday, shows every stage of a dancer’s career. Stars are merely one part of it. Friday began, as has often happened in previous years, with dozens of children moving in elaborate formations in a “Celebrate the Beat” number. (This time their ensemble was joined by the master clown Bill Irwin.)
And each year, some of the most remarkable Vail performances come from junior dancers. Roman Mejia, who graduated from the School of American Ballet in June, is still only 17; later this month he starts as an apprentice at New York City Ballet. On Friday night, however, he became a name on many Vail lips as he danced Edward Villella’s exuberant role in Balanchine’s 1964 “Tarantella” pas de deux. On Saturday, creating a role in the world premiere of Matthew Neenan’s “Farewell” (to Leonard Bernstein music), he did an unanticipated multiple pirouette of bewildering velocity before bouncing blithely into brilliant jumps.
Mr. Mejia is already a character — he has sweetness, attack, elevation, courtesy, all to a high degree — as well as a technician. It’s wonderful to see him given these important breaks so soon in his career.
Likewise Unity Phelan, a City Ballet dancer of startling watch-me allure, danced on Friday the pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Agon” with…