Homegrown talent: Colorado performers at the Vail Dance Festival
Special to the Weekly
four performers at the Vail International Dance Festival spent their formative years training in Colorado, but in very different ways.
Isabella Boyslton fell in love with the musicality of dance largely because she had the rare opportunity to practice regularly to live piano music. Amelia Stuart-Dilley may have been tucked away in the Vail Valley, but the International Dance Festival broadened her vision and aspirations. Take Cameron Grant, a pianist who began tickling keys because his older brother caught the attention of a legendary conductor. And the youngest of the Colorado-raised performers, 11-year-old Adi Malcolm, simply fired up her computer and watched YouTube videos in slow motion to learn her moves.
Each performer offers a glimpse of how they garnered national attention through following their passion — and, of course, putting in the practice.
This is Isabella Boyslton’s third year performing at the Vail International Dance Festival, and for her, it feels “like coming home.”
In fact, her husband proposed to her at the Dance Festival, making it even more enchanting than ever.
Boyslton’s family moved to Boulder from Idaho when she was 7, after a job transfer. Sun Valley’s active lifestyle prompted her to begin ballet lessons, gymnastics, skiing and other activities around age 3. But she didn’t begin taking ballet seriously until she moved to Boulder and entered The Boulder Ballet.
“I felt a natural connection to the physical challenge, and the freedom and expression and musicality,” she said. “I practiced to live piano, which is so rare for a little school. It had lots of light and was a very creative atmosphere.”
Around age 10, ballet vied for her time, so she committed to making ballet more important than skiing or gymnastics.
“It was by far what I connected to and had the most natural talent for,” she said.
By age 12, she spent two hours every day commuting by bus to the Academy of Colorado Ballet in Denver. Though she found it necessary to attend a more “professional” school, she credits Boulder’s school with not only the live piano music, which spurred her fluidity, but also its “free-spirited approach to dance.”
“If it would have been more strict, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with ballet and embraced the dance,” she said.
Eventually, her commuting to Denver became unsustainable, so, in her sophomore year of high school, she decided to attend the HARID Conservatory in Boca Rotan, Florida. It required living away from her family, but she yearned to be a professional dancer. There, she learned about American Ballet Theatre, and right before her senior year, they invited her to join their studio company — an intermediate step toward the ABT. Her parents didn’t want her to go quite yet, so they compromised, and she finished school in New York City to further immerse herself in dance.
“I was just loving life — I was not at all fearful, just excited,” she said. “I was living in an apartment with five other girls … I thought I was living the dream.”
The following year, she joined the ABT Studio Company, then apprenticed in the main company a year later, and, by 2007, at age 19, she made it to corps de ballet.
Her forward momentum over the years led to soloist with ABT in 2011, principal dancer in 2014 and plenty of prestigious awards. She excels in her powerful jumps, expansive range of roles and her musicality, first instilled in Boulder.
Since getting married last year, her latest goals involve adding roles to her repertoire.
“My dream is to have a full-length ballet created (around) me,” she said.
In the meantime, she’s making dreamlike, fantasy independent films, which incorporate dance.
“I want to show dance in a way that is not possible to show it in a (live) theater,” she said, “to reveal something about dance you wouldn’t see in the theater.”
Amelia Stuart-Dilley was about 10 when her grandfather first escorted her to the Vail International Dance Festival. She had been to the Colorado Ballet’s “Nutcracker” and watched countless dancers on YouTube, but what she experienced at Vail’s festival blew her away. It came in the form of flamenco dancers from Spain.
“I loved it,” she said. “I had never really been exposed to such a different aesthetic.”
She began to volunteer at the festival, to see “the best of the best” and be “exposed to such high quality dancing,” she said. Her family moved to the Vail Valley from Michigan because they were in the construction business, and Vail was booming. But before that, her mom had enrolled Stuart-Dilley in dance classes because she wasn’t making a lot of friends in school.
She found a new expression in dance, which helped her bridge her communication gap and allowed her to make more friends.
“It helped me express myself better,” she said. “One of my favorite things about dance is that it’s a way to express yourself without words. Dance is a better way to express yourself all around.”
After moving to the Vail Valley in second grade, she trained at Vail Valley Academy of Dance in Edwards, and when they moved to Gypsum a year later, she dropped gymnastics and commuted to Edwards for ballet. Her first (accidental) leap into the dance world arose from a snowstorm. They had driven down to Denver for a summer intensive and got snowed in. Nature had forced them to stay an extra day, which happened to be an audition day for Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts. They promptly offered her a full scholarship for their summer program, and she ended up graduating from the boarding school.
The schooling prepared her for Juilliard, which “happened on a whim,” she said. Her plans involved going straight to a company or training ship. However, it just so happened that Stuart-Dilley’s best friend’s dream school was Juilliard, and she was terribly nervous about the audition, so she asked Stuart-Dilley to accompany her and audition, as well.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it,’ and I ended up being accepted,” she said. “It may not have been in my plan, but it’s not a bad thing to be at Juilliard.”
Before she graduated in May, the artistic director of Charlotte Ballet flew her to Charlotte and was impressed by her style. Now, she’s part of the company, which, coincidentally, happens to be where her idol Patricia McBride works as the associate artistic director and master teacher.
Stuart-Dilley encourages young dancers to pursue their dreams by “taking one day at a time, and doing at least something every day to get there. Definitely believing it is possible is so much of the battle. You have to be willing to believe it to make it happen.”
Grant joined the New York City Ballet in 1984, not as a dancer, but as a solo pianist. Two years later, he became the appointed pianist of the New York City Ballet Orchestra and has been there ever since.
Growing up in Denver, he didn’t set out to be a world-renowned pianist. In fact, it was his older brother who captured the attention of Dr. Antonia Brico, who many consider a pioneer in the orchestral world. Grant’s older brother was an animated “type A,” and Brico grabbed him and said, “I’m going to teach you piano.” His two brothers joined in (Grant, at age 6), and Grant studied with Brico until he graduated high school. His well-rounded instruction included learning violin and performing opera excerpts.
“She was very exacting, and she expected you to practice hard,” he said. “She expected parents to sit with kids every day while practicing — up to age 12, until I drove my mom away. Everything was about music for her, and I think that’s what it’s like for people who inspire others.”
Grant decided to pursue piano in college at the Boston Conservatory, where he worked hard to further his skills. After graduation, a high school friend and fellow musician told him he should move to New York City if he wanted to be a musician. And so he did, accompanying other performers to see where it all led.
“To me, it was kind of thrilling — for a kid just out of college, eating cold sesame noodles at midnight and going, going, going,” he said. “New York City had everything and you met just the most interesting people (who) would be hard to meet somewhere else.”
After paying his dues, with freelance gigs netting $200 each and waiting tables for New York Philharmonic board dinners, a friend told him the New York City Ballet was looking for a pianist. George Balanchine was there at the time, so Grant said “yes” to the job.
“Balanchine was a phenomenal person and musician,” Grant said. “(I thought), if he’s here, there must be some reason.”
And, indeed, there was. Grant has performed all the major piano ballets, toured worldwide, performed for the president and played in the Emmy Award-winning broadcast of the New York City Ballet in 2004. He has also gathered plenty of accolades — and concert dates — as a soloist and collaboratively, outside the ballet world.
“My inspiration really comes from playing with great choreographers and a really good piece,” he said of working in the dance world. “That’s where the magic comes in.”
Malcolm’s dad raised her in motocross since she was 4 years old. But in fifth grade, she “fell in love” with Michael Jackson’s moves while searching for a topic for a school research project. From there, the Littleton resident delved deeper into the world of popping, gliding, floating, dubbing, waving and more.
“I liked how it didn’t look human at all,” she said, “and how the people (watching) reacted.”
Soon, she found she had a knack for learning how street dancers move their joints and muscles, and for freestyling her own form. She’s never received formal training, but within a year of learning online and freestyling, she landed a gig performing for the opening ceremonies of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. She has also received calls from “America’s Got Talent,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Queen Latifah and a LA group that wants her to perform in a music video.
How? A simple YouTube video she created.
“I felt like I wanted to put it out there if other people wanted to learn,” she said. She figured she’d get a couple hundred views in few months, but within a couple days, the video went viral.
“I started realizing, ‘this is going pretty darn big,’ and it really shocked me,” Malcolm said.
Her mom, Peggy Malcolm, says Adi has always been creative and able to watch things online and pick them up, like drawing.
But the public response to Adi’s dance immersion came quickly and unexpectedly for the Malcolm family.
“Everything happened so fast … and I wasn’t sure what was age appropriate and what she wanted to do,” Peggy said. “This is something that’s fallen into her life, and it’s opened a lot of doors. She’s gotten to choose what she wants, what works with her schedule.”
She’s also discovered fame has some humorous twists. When BET contacted them to produce a feature story, Peggy responded: “You’ve seen Adi, right?”
She still aims to go pro in motocross if the sport starts to promote girls more. So far, both sports fit into her schedule, and her paradigm.
“The (physical) strength and the mental strength performing in front of people — you have to have a lot of guts to do that,” she said of both disciplines.
Her short-term goals include trying out for “America’s Got Talent.”
“I like making people smile. I love to see the crowd’s reaction and making their jaw drop,” she said of dance.