Arts & Culture

Prima ballerina brings a festival to Sun Valley, her hometown

American Ballet Theatre principal dancer and Sun Valley native Isabella Boylston created Ballet Sun Valley to bring the dance form to her hometown. She put together a company of international marquee performers and commissioned a new ballet from choreographer Gemma Bond that will premiere at the concert series next week.
American Ballet Theatre principal dancer and Sun Valley native Isabella Boylston created Ballet Sun Valley to bring the dance form to her hometown. She put together a company of international marquee performers and commissioned a new ballet from choreographer Gemma Bond that will premiere at the concert series next week. Provided by Isabella Boylston

Isabella Boylston doesn’t remember the time, years ago, when she and Gemma Bond tried to choreograph a ballet together. Bond does, though.

“I got so bossy,” Bond recalled. “I was like, ‘Isabella, this isn’t going to work.’”

But now they’ve found a way to be creative together — and circumstances in which they both can act a little bossy. As the artistic director of a new festival, Ballet Sun Valley, Boylston has commissioned a 25-minute ballet by Bond.

Both members of American Ballet Theatre, Boylston, 30, is a principal from Sun Valley; Bond, 35 and from England, is in the corps de ballet as well as a choreographer who recently received a Princess Grace Award. Her ballets embrace musicality and highlight port de bras, or the carriage of the arms, as well as articulate, fleet pointe work.

For her new ballet, she said she was inspired, loosely, by the solar eclipse that will occur Monday – the title is “eight/twenty-one/seventeen” – and is working with 10 Ballet Theater dancers. Boylston plays the sun, and Marcelo Gomes is the moon. It also features a new score by Judd Greenstein, video designs by Kate Duhamel and costumes by Reid and Harriet.

The festival, Tuesday, Aug. 22, through Thursday, Aug. 24, at the Sun Valley Pavilion, is a way for Boylston to bring ballet to her hometown. The cultural scene has expanded since she grew up there, not watching television but playing outside and cultivating her imagination. (Her father, a musician, performed in bars and at weekly outdoor performances during the summers.)

Boylston had long wanted to organize a program but had no idea where until she was scouting wedding locations for herself in Sun Valley. “I saw the pavilion,” she said. “It’s this beautiful amphitheater and I just thought, ‘This definitely has the capability for a world-class ballet performance.’”

Certainly, the dancers are world-class. Boylston is showcasing Kimin Kim from the Mariinsky Ballet; Ida Praetorius from the Royal Danish Ballet and Alban Lendorf (also a Ballet Theater principal and one of Boylston’s partners), who will dance an excerpt from Bournonville’s rarely seen “The Kermesse in Bruges.” And Boylston will perform Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun” and Justin Peck’s “The Bright Motion.”

Other dancers on the program include ABT principals Missy Copland and Marchelo Gomez.

She wants to spark the next generation, too: She has included an education day consisting of free classes for children and a choreography workshop led by Bond.

Her hope? “That people will be transported.”

Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Boylston and Bond.

Q: You want to bring ballet to your hometown. Did you see much dance growing up?

Isabella Boylston: I had VHS tapes. I never actually saw a performance until I was probably a teenager. It’s so weird.

Q: Has it been difficult pulling off this festival?

Boylston: It was really naïve for me to think that it was a good idea to commission a 25-minute ballet. It was a good idea, but it’s so hard to get 10 dancers to rehearse all together on their off time.

But I wanted to break up the formula of a festival. Otherwise it would have been all pas de deux, and it was important for me to have new work and also to have a more substantial piece, so I thought, “Let’s do it.”

Q: You two have been friends since Gemma arrived at Ballet Theater in 2008. What attracted you to each other?

Gemma Bond: I had come from the Royal Ballet. Isabella was one of these crazy talents that was in the corps de ballet. She was doing her first pas de trois (in “Swan Lake”), and it was a big deal because they didn’t give those opportunities out lightly. I was like: “You’ve got this. This is easy.”

She was always really friendly to me in the studio and some people weren’t. Especially the smaller dancers.

Boylston: Competitive?

Bond: Yeah. It was tricky for me, because I already had a repertoire. And I remember in casting, people didn’t get what they wanted because I had arrived, so there was a weird tension at first. But never with Isabella. She was like, whatever.

Boylston: I just thought Gemma was a free spirit, and I was always impressed and drawn to her creativity. Since I’ve known her, Gemma has been doing a million different projects – whether it’s painting a mural on the wall of her apartment or doing some insane felting project or making costumes.

Bond: I get a little restless. My boyfriend is always like, “Sit down and read a book!”

Q: What’s the idea behind this new piece?

Bond: There’s an obvious two-team thing going on.

Q: The suns and the moons?

Bond: Yes, and the idea that before an eclipse there’s tension and a buildup. Everyone’s anticipating it and it happens and then it’s back to normal.

Judd and I were talking about the anxiety of knowing you have to do something or meet a group of people you don’t know. Once you’re there, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just people.’ So then it became more about society today.

Q: How so?

Bond: People segregate themselves into communities, especially with all the racial tension. It’s a difficult time, so we were talking about how it’s the same kind of anxiety.

Q: What is your part like, Isabella?

Boylston: It’s really athletic. My first entrance is a solo that’s fast with jumping and turning, and then I have a pas de deux. Sometimes Gemma will show something and I’m like, “Oh God, this is going to look so bad on me,” but I try it and it totally works. Things that feel a little quirky or awkward resolve themselves in interesting ways. This will be my first time in Gemma’s work.

Q: What do you make of the lack of prominent female choreographers in ballet?

Boylston: It’s just not in ballet – it’s in every profession pretty much. And then when I started reading more about it –

Bond: (Laughs) You’re like, “That’s true!” It’s a tricky situation. I did a show earlier this year and it was to celebrate females and I wasn’t very happy about it because I felt like they were forcing the issue. It seemed a little desperate to me. The curation wasn’t very strong.

Boylston: I want to say that I picked Gemma because I like her work, not because she’s a female. It just made sense.

Q: And you could also be in it?

Boylston: Exactly. (Laughs) I wanted to work with her too. I’m a very selfish director.

Ballet Sun Valley

Mixed Repertory, different program each evening: Tuesday, Aug. 22, and Thursday, Aug. 24; Sun Valley Pavilion, Sun Valley. Doors open at 6:30, shows starts at 7:30: $25, $50, $125, $250, $500, free for ages 12 and younger but must have a ticket and be accompanied by a paying adult. sunvalley.ticketfly.com, or 208-622-2135.

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