Betty Ford: A remarkable life |

Betty Ford: A remarkable life

Special to the Daily The Fords and Galina Stepanyenko of the Bolshoi Ballet.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Betty Ford: Vail Valley’s First Lady” by Elizabeth Eber and Jane Imber is a book commissioned by the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens to honor Betty Ford and recognize her unique contributions to our area. The book will be presented to Mrs. Ford at a tribute event Aug. 7 in Ford Park. Over the next two weeks, the Vail Daily will serialize the contents of the book on page 5.Staging an international performance in the Vail Valley involves everything from vision and opportunity, to fundraising and program design, management, publicity and execution. But no less important, and certainly essential to these achievements, is getting the performers here. The Vail International Dance Festival owes a large part of that accomplishment to Betty and Gerald Ford.In 1989, the Vail Valley Foundation was offered the opportunity to host the students of the Russian Bolshoi Ballet Academy for their only North American appearance, at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail. The resulting success led the following year to the establishment of the Bolshoi Academy’s exclusive North American satellite school.

The Academy provided residencies to some of the most promising ballet students from across North America, chosen in competitive auditions at which hundreds tried out for the opportunity to study with Russian teachers. Public performances at the Ford Amphitheater were a highlight of the residencies, and many of the Vail Bolshoi Academy students went on to achieve successful and renowned professional dance careers.Based on the Vail Valley’s rewarding relationship with the Bolshoi Academy, other dance programs were developed. Starting in 1992, under the direction of Producing Artistic Director Katherine Kersten, and with the support of the Vail Valley Foundation, an international dance program evolved that included both educational components and appearances by celebrated international guest artists. Today the highly acclaimed festival includes the International Evenings of Dance, which brings together principal dancers from the major international ballet companies for repertory highlights; the Choreographers Collection, which commissions original works by the nation’s top emerging choreographers; and Ensemble performances featuring stars from many of the world’s greatest companies. The festival also features a Dance Dialogue series, providing spectators with an understanding of the art of dance through informal lectures and free performances. President and Betty Ford are Honorary Directors of what has become the Vail International Dance Festival.But in 1989, when the Bolshoi Academy of Moscow, under the direction of Madame Sophia Golovkina, was planning its first North American tour, President Ford’s help with all the State Department considerations and Betty Ford’s deep involvement

in the logistics of getting the dancers here, were key to bringing them to Vail. In addition, according to Allie Coppeak of the Vail Valley Foundation, Madame Golovkina and her world famous principal dancers’ annual time in Vail included many visits to the Fords’ home.”It really became a cultural exchange program,” said Coppeak. “The dancers were able to earn in a few weeks in Vail what it took many months or even years to earn in the USSR. Many Vail area families supported scholarships. The Fords often appeared on stage to welcome the dance students to this country.””It was so wonderful to watch the Russian and American dance students interact,” remembers Donna Giordano, who with husband Gil, were major sponsors of the festival. Often the opening event would be a Western party at 4 Eagle Ranch. At first the Russian dancers would be on one side of the room and the Americans on the other. Slowly, they would inch closer until by the end of the evening they were dancing together and just having fun. Both the Fords were very involved with the dancers at these events.” “None of this would have been possible,” said Lissa Tyler, then Executive Vice President of the Vail Valley Foundation, “without the community and our generous donors. Additionally, the combined support of all the businesses and corporations has helped the Vail Valley and the people of Colorado enjoy not only an internationally acclaimed dance festival, but also a priceless cultural and educational jewel deep in the heart of the Rockies.”

Patricia Lynch, a Vail Valley friend of Betty Ford, said of her, “Just her presence here has made a significant contribution. I’m sure you know better than I do all the activities and charitable efforts she has been at the center of – not to mention … the dance festivals.”But it was Betty Ford herself, in her endless striving to benefit others by her assistance with public endeavors, who said of the dance festival, “Particularly gratifying is the number of student graduates who have gone on to success and fame.” It certainly is to Vail’s endless benefit that Betty Ford, successful and famous, shared with the Valley her most worthwhile love of and accomplishments with dance.Vail, Colorado

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