I thought it would be interesting for our readers to see what Artistic Director Adam Sklute has to say about his company, Ballet West.
1) What is your vision for the 09-10 Ballet West season?
Last year was a “Brave new world”. All the ballets in our season were new to Ballet West. I had always envisioned starting my tenure with a season of all new works and then following it up with beloved classics. That’s why this year’s theme is “Dare to Dream.” I am continually inspired by Mr. C’s dream of classical ballet here in Utah and wanted to touch base with that dream again by reintroducing hidden treasures from Ballet West’s extensive repertoire, works that haven’t been seen in years and that celebrate the power and hope of dreams. I’m particularly excited about remounting Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream his brilliant one hour version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in Victorian England. This is a quintessentially English ballet full of wit, charm, and piquant mannerisms that you will only see in an Ashton ballet. The Dream hasn’t been seen on Ballet West’s stage since the early 1990’s. I’m also looking forward to reviving Balanchine’s spectacular and rousing Stars and Stripes. This work was created during a time of sheer optimism when his vision of classical ballet in America was truly beginning to come into its own. The last time that Ballet West performed Stars and Stripes was in 1981.
I also knew I wanted us to mount a grand scale classic and I wanted that to be Swan Lake. Last year Ballet West did so many new and different ballets and it reinvigorated the spirit and artistry of the company which is why I wanted to do Swan Lake to see what that new invigorated spirit would do and how it would affect the ballet. It’s been four years since we performed it and so we’re ready to do it again.
Innovations has been so successful that this year I want to take it to another level and invite local choreographers outside the company to submit their works for consideration. I am still following the Innovations format—this year will feature a world premiere by Helen Pickett an American choreographer who trained under William Forsyth along with 3 new works by company dancers—and I’m really excited to see what kind of submissions I will get from around the state. The wonderful thing about Innovations is that you really don’t know how it’s going to come together until that curtain goes up.
Everything in this upcoming season says something about the power and purpose of dreams and how we need them now more than ever.
2) The economy is tough right now, have you had to make any cuts or modifications to the programming?
Look, the economy is tough world wide and everyone has had to tighten their belts. What I’m proud of is that we here at Ballet West recognized this problem early on and addressed it by making cutbacks right away. It wasn’t easy—and we’re still not out of the woods—but this has put us in a different kind of position where we are now exploring ways of growing to increase revenue. We had to make tough decisions that were proactive and like with pruning back a rose bush I’m looking forward to new growth.
I have to say that our entire organization has been amazingly generous, every dancer, staff member, crew member, orchestra member and board member. It moves me to tears really and inspires me to push the company to greater heights!
In my perfect world we would have seen a few more Ballet West premieres this year and honestly that was where it was frustrating to have my hands tied by the economy. I spent a lot of time last year increasing the exposure of Ballet West. Whether I was on the road scouting for new talent or bringing in guest artists this was my way of showing the world how beautiful our dancers were and how accomplished they are –and I’m proud to say that it has all paid off. All the choreographers and repetiteurs in charge of approving ballets for companies to perform who saw Ballet West were unanimously impressed and I had offers and requests and auditioners pouring in. Some things we will get to this year and some will be further down the road. But that’s the suspense, excitement, and creativity that comes with running a ballet company.
3) Tell us more about Swan Lake?
Swan Lake is a classic—like a Shakespeare play is a classic—and it can be staged in a variety of different ways but in the end you still have that gorgeous Tchaikovsky music, the choreographic framework of Petipa and Ivanov, and a story that is as immortal as the love between Odette and Siegfried. I believe in that story. I trust in that story. I want to produce a new yet still classic version – one that flushes out the drama inherent in the story but that sometimes gets lost in the ballet. I will be returning to some of the original concepts from the first Maryinsky production while imbuing it with some of my own ideas. This would strengthen the characters’ identities while bringing out the reasons for the story unfolding in the way that it does. Streamlining and shortening the ballet (we’re shaving off about a half an hour) makes it more concise and theatrically compelling.
One of my great joys is recognizing talent and bringing people together. This is why I consider myself a producer and not a choreographer. My aim is to conceptualize and produce the whole artistic experience. For this new version of Swan Lake I have enlisted my Ballet Masters Mark Goldweber and Pamela Robinson-Harris. Mark will oversee acts 1 and 3 and Pam will oversee the “white” acts (acts 2 and 4). Ballet Master Bruce Caldwell will work with the principles and soloists. I’m also thrilled to announce that the great American ballerina, Cynthia Gregory, will be coming in to coach this production. Cynthia was a product of the Christensen brothers and one of America’s definitive Odette/Odiles. Bringing in guest coaches like Cynthia is very important because it allows the artists to work with these living legends and ultimately this shows in their performances.
I know exactly what I want theatrically, choreographically and stylistically. It is Mark’s and Pam’s job to stage the version that emerges– and in some places they will even be choreographing new material. Added to this will be the unique input that I can only get from my principal artists who need to try this on their bodies to see what works and what doesn’t so that what we have in the end is a grand collaboration. This is exactly the way that I like to work and what will make this version of Swan Lake come to life.
4) You have very quickly put your stamp on Ballet West. How does that feel and where will you go from here?
When I began as Artistic Director of Ballet West in the spring of 2007, Ballet West was a great company begging for new artistic direction. I felt no need to reinvent the wheel. The fact is, I was proud to become a part of Ballet West and what it had to offer. That’s why I spent so much time studying its history and its repertoire. What I felt at the time, however, was that the artists didn’t realize how amazing they were so what I needed to do right away was build their confidence by highlighting their individual gifts and by pushing them out of their comfort zones. This allowed me to change the culture on a variety of different levels releasing creative energies that I could then focus and redirect into the 21st century.
To me our company is more than just its repertoire it’s how we approach the work itself—whether it’s a world premiere or Swan Lake– because if we can find the way to make the work exciting then we unlock what’s fresh and creative in everything we do.
I’m happy to say that this has paid off. Since I’ve been here we have had stellar reviews from Washington DC where we performed at the Kennedy Center. We appeared on the cover of Dance Magazine for the first time in 24 years, we received a glowing write-up from the New York Times (no easy feat), and our local reviews have been strong and positive. Over the last couple of years we have experienced record setting sales so it looks like our audiences are pleased with what they’re seeing. This year we have been invited to appear at New York’s City Center (our first return to NY since 1981) and we will also be at the Laguna Dance Festival. It’s funny because in the moment I never feel like I’m doing enough – there is always so much more to accomplish, but when I stop and really take stock, then yes I’m proud of what we have all done together.
My next goal – along with continuing to build the repertoire, the strength of our artists and the academy– is three fold. First I want to deepen our ties to the community and one of my aims is to explore greater collaborations with Utah artists of all mediums. This is why I introduced our “Shoe-In” project with the hopes of cultivating home-grown talent so that one day I could commission costumes, sets, or maybe even a ballet score. Second we are Utah’s flagship performing arts organization and getting our new facilities completed next door to the theater is paramount—it will also allow us to expand the size of our academy, increase revenue, and become more of a presence to the entire state of Utah which leads to my third goal– I want to see us touring more.
We will continue to get the main company out as much as possible but what I’m looking to do over the next two years is to make Ballet West II (our training company) our primary touring entity throughout the intermountain region. They can– and should– be going to all the smaller cities, festivals, and venues who deserve to see Ballet West but may not be able to afford the main company. This is all in our reach, but we need the resources to extend that reach.
Salt Lake City is growing at an amazing pace and in 3 years I expect that it will be a whole new city. It has a world class ballet company ready to represent it on the national and international stage. This is my dream and I dare to dream it.