Homegrown talent: Colorado performers at the Vail Dance Festival
July 26, 2015
Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series about Colorado-influenced performers at the Vail International Dance Festival.
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.
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."
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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 says. 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 Julliard, 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 Julliard, 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 says. "It may not have been in my plan, but it's not a bad thing to be at Julliard."
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."