VAIL — It began with a torrential downpour; one of those rare Colorado evenings when Mother Nature turns her wrath on the Vail Valley. Sparks danced off of the sound board and a full house at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater sat huddled in anticipation under an assortment of umbrellas, ponchos, tarps and garbage bags in an effort to keep dry. Mother Nature was definitely not a ballet fan.
The rain gave way to a spectacular Vail evening, while also ironically paving the way for an equally spectacular cultural exchange and world renowned performance series that will be celebrated for the 25th season Sunday through Aug. 10 with the Silver Anniversary of the Vail International Dance Festival.
“This is obviously a very special year for us,” said Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation. “Over the course of the past 25 years, the Vail International Dance Festival has most definitely put Vail in the spotlight throughout the international dance community and there are so many people that have helped make this dream a reality.”
The year was 1989 and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy of Moscow was touring the United States for the first time in almost 20 years. Vail had been a last-minute addition to the tour and, at that particular moment, many of the Russian dancers were no doubt wondering why their artistic director, Madame Sophia N. Golovkina, had ever agreed to bring them to this place.
Madame Golovkina peered out into the audience from backstage and wondered why all these crazy Americans were sitting in the rain, waiting for her students to perform. If this were Russia, all of those people would have been home by now, but this was not Russia and these people weren’t leaving.
“They have come to see us,” Madame Golovkina announced to her students, “and we will perform for them.”
A special friendship
Three sensational sold-out performances later, a special friendship had been formed between the Vail Valley and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and Vail was well on its way to becoming a dance destination.
The warmth of the Vail Valley community made an immediate and lasting impression on Golovkina, while former President and Mrs. Gerald R. Ford recognized the potential of creating a cultural exchange through dance that would bring the tradition of Russian ballet technique to American students. An exclusive North American summer satellite school was discussed with the Vail Valley Foundation and Madame Golovkina returned home with not only fond memories, but a unique new program: the Bolshoi Ballet Academy at Vail.
“The overall experience was hard to put into words,” said Foundation Chairman Harry Frampton. “I remember a number of the staff coming to say goodbye to Madame and her students as they got on the bus to return to Denver, and then driving a little way up Vail Pass to wave goodbye again as the buses passed.”
The following summer, the inaugural four-week Vail Academy opened its doors to a freshman class of 44 students from across the United States.
The students and teachers communicated through the language of dance and, at the conclusion of the program, history was once again made as Madame Golovkina invited four of the Vail Academy students to return to Russia to study for a semester at the Bolshoi Academy.
A performance element was added to the mix in 1992 with a three-week residency for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, culminating in four sold-out performances at the Ford Amphitheater. The Vail Academy flourished and began to receive national attention, while the Vail Valley continued its love affair with ballet.
As the dance program grew, the Vail Valley Foundation saw the need to add a dance professional to manage the burgeoning Bolshoi program. Katherine Kersten, who was serving as the school director for the nationally recognized Milwaukee Ballet, was named managing director of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy at Vail in 1992.
“Katherine is the one who allowed us to take the Dance Festival to the next level,” Folz said. “She was well respected throughout the dance community and provided the vision for both the educational and performance elements of the program.”
The summer of 1993 saw Kersten’s production of the inaugural Paul Mitchell International Evening of Dance, which featured principal couples representing major international dance companies.
Ironically, that first International Evening would also introduce New York City Ballet star Damian Woetzel to Vail and the Dance Festival. Fourteen years later, in 2007, Woetzel would take over the reins of the Vail International Dance Festival.
“Damian is truly the one that developed the festival into an international showcase for dance,” Folz said. “His passion and vision for dance as an art form is unparalleled and he is the embodiment of everything that the Vail International Dance Festival has become.”
Among the unique components that Woetzel brought to the festival are the educational and interactive elements that engage the local community, including the UpClose series, Celebrate the Beat, Dancing in the Streets and Village Vignettes, providing audiences with an informative and entertaining peek behind the curtain at the world of dance.
The 2013 Dance Festival will feature a special 25th anniversary evening, entitled UpClose: Footwork Performance, showcasing virtuoso footwork in dance styles ranging from Memphis jookin’ to ballet, tango and tap. Tickets are priced at $275 and all proceeds will help ensure that the Vail International Dance Festival enjoys another 25 successful years.
The 25th anniversary season officially kicks off Sunday, with a total of 11 performances at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail and the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. The complete lineup for the 2013 Vail International Dance Festival, along with artist information, photos and videos is available online at www.vaildance.org.
“Each year, we look to expand how dance and the arts help make Vail in the summer such a vibrant and exciting place to be,” Woetzel said. “We’ve had a wonderful 25 years and now look forward to another quarter century of performances, education and community programming.”
Who could have guessed that the rainbow that followed that 1989 rainstorm would still be shining, 25 years later? Perhaps Mother Nature is a ballet fan after all.