Artist-in-residence Isabella Boylston leads Vail International Dance Festival Opening Night | VailDaily.com

Artist-in-residence Isabella Boylston leads Vail International Dance Festival Opening Night

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: This article first appeared in Vail Dance.

For Isabella Boylston, performing at the Vail International Dance Festival feels like coming home. It's not simply that she fell in love with ballet while studying at The Boulder Ballet, or the memory of her husband proposing to her three years ago at the 2013 festival. It's about Boylston's present and future challenges at the festival, namely collaborating with different dancers and companies as this year's artist-in-residence.

"It's a huge honor, especially considering the past artists who were artists-in-residence," Boylston said. "They're all dancers that I admire so much."

In this season's role, "she will dance more than ever, as she will be cast throughout the whole festival," said Damian Woetzel, the festival's artistic director. "She will tackle new roles, dance with new partners, have a ballet created with her in the leading role, and off the stage, we will have her engage with the community through classes, talks and community events that share her unique gifts with the public beyond the theater environment."

Boylston's first appearance of this year's Vail International Dance Festival is Opening Night tonight where she will share the stage with Memphis jookin' virtuoso Lil Buck and a range of other artists.

Artist-in-residence

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Last season, Boylston sampled the challenges that lie ahead by dancing as a guest artist with BalletX (which happens to be this season's company-in-residence). She danced Matthew Neenan's "Show Me," a featured work on the NOW: Premieres program, which she will perform in again this year.

While any piece is challenging to learn, stepping out of her role as principal dancer at American Ballet Theater and adapting to BalletX's bold choreography — which focuses on expanding the vocabulary of classical dance — proved to be quite tricky last summer.

"It's almost like you're trying to pick up a new language," she said. "It's not something you pick up overnight, but I knew I would learn a lot."

So, she watched, practiced and emulated BalletX's full-bodied, grounded fusion of ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop and other styles.

The live music she danced to in "Show Me" elevated her performance, as it reminded her of younger days at The Boulder Ballet, where she practiced to live piano music, which spurred her fluidity and free-spirit within the strict technique of classical ballet.

Throughout her few years at the festival, Woetzel couldn't help but be impressed by Boylston's zealous personality, as well as her graceful lines, powerful leaps and ability to master diverse roles.

"I love the adventurous and enthusiastic spirit that Isabella brings to everything she does — that, and she is a simply extraordinary dancer," Woetzel said. "She is always willing and — more than that — insistent on pushing herself into new ground, and the artist-in-residence role is all about that."

Born for ballet

Boylston always felt "a natural connection to the physical challenge and the freedom and expression and musicality" of ballet. After training at the Academy of Colorado Ballet in Denver for about four years, she attended the HARID Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida as a high school senior and after graduation, joined the ABT Studio Company and continued to move up the ranks.

This year, she achieved one of her ultimate dreams of performing the role of Juliet with ABT, and her next goal involves dancing more of choreographer George Balanchine's ballets.

"I just want to keep evolving as a dancer," she said. "I want to continue to improve technically and artistically and take on as many roles and learn as many styles while I can.

"At the end of the day, I just find ballet so rewarding. I'm the most happy and satisfied when I'm really delving into something in the studio and working my butt off. That's what makes me tick."

Vail International Dance Festival schedule

• Opening Night — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 30, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• BalletX — 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Dorrance Dance in Concert — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• UpClose: Vail’s Dance Festival with Damian Woetzel — 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek

• International Evenings of Dance I — 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• International Evenings of Dance II — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• NOW: Premieres — 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Dance for $20.16 — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Dance Theatre of Harlem — 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek

• Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance — 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Ballroom Spectacular — 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

• Dance TV — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail

For a full schedule, including Master Classes and fringe events, visit vaildance.org or call 888-920-ARTS (2787).

Art Gallery & Silent Auction

The Vail International Dance Festival celebrates three artists — Patrick Fraser, Erin Baiano and Andrea Selby — who will showcase five pieces of work each as part of the festival’s art gallery. The pieces are signed by the artists and are part of a silent auction, with proceeds benefiting the festival. The exhibit and auction will take place at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater before festival performances and during intermission several nights throughout the festival from Saturday, July 30, through Tuesday, Aug. 9, as well as at the Vail International Dance Festival Gala all night on Friday, Aug. 5.