Ballet West Principal Artist Emily Adams is the recipient of this year’s Princess Grace Choreography Honoraria award, a prestigious honor given to a rare few in the country recognizing emerging artists to uphold the legacy of Princess Grace of Monaco.

Ballet West has received the Princess Grace Award three times since it was established in 1982. In addition to Adams, Ballet West Academy Principal Faculty Jeff Rogers received a Princess Grace Award in 1982 as a young dancer with Ballet West, and then emerging artist Beckanne Sisk received the award in 2011. Sisk danced with Ballet West for 11 years, rising to the ranks of Principal Artist. She is now a Principal Artist with Houston Ballet.  

“The Princess Grace Award is one of the most prestigious honors given in the performing arts,” said Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute, who nominated Adams. “I can’t think of a more deserving individual this year,” continues Sklute. “Emily has become a powerful and unique voice in ballet choreography and I am excited to see her work continue to grow and develop.”

During her 18-year tenure with Ballet West, Adams has created six ballets, including The Thing with Feathers in 2021, and in 2019, a collaboration with The Way of the Rain, Sibylle Szaggers Redford, and composer Tim Janis to create Earth Movements: A Symphony for Ballet, which was presented at the 68th United Nations International NGO Conference.

Adams started choreographing as a student at age 12 with her first ballet for four girls performed at a museum in New Jersey and later at an outdoor fair. Her next piece was for the School of American Ballet’s student choreography workshop, which then led to an invitation for creating a piece for New York Choreographic Institute.

“Choreography and the creative process has always been an integral part of my love for ballet,” said Adams. “Before I learned any technical terms or had ever stepped up to the barre, I was creating dances to anything from Vivaldi to Celine Dion with my fellow classmates. We took turns making up sequences at a tiny school in Pennsylvania where movement was uncategorized and music was anything that made us want to dance. The studio was a place of creativity, teamwork, and endless possibility.”

“Recognition from the Princess Grace Foundation is an incredible honor,” she continues. “For the panel to see my work and include me among their awardees gives me so much motivation to stretch my creative muscles and continue down this choreographic path.”

Adams says one of the hardest aspects of choreography is trusting the process, letting the ballet evolve and take shape, knowing that there will be days when creativity doesn’t flow and doubt creeps in. 

“Storytelling is at the heart of my work.  I am interested in universal principles, archetypes, and timeless concepts, particularly the human pursuit of meaning, connection, truth and beauty,” Adams said. “I build ballets around the smallest gesture or the quietest moment, a faint glimmer of hope or a tiny spark of courage because I believe that often the smallest detail can have the biggest impact.  I use ballet as a vehicle to tell stories, create relationships, and take the dancers and the audiences on a journey.  I like to approach stories with a sense of child-like curiosity, honesty, and imagination, and infuse a sense of humor into the exploration of dark themes.”

She poses questions to herself at the beginning of the process, such as What kind of world do I want the audience to experience? What adventure do I want to take them on visually and emotionally? What are the quirks, motivations, and fears of the characters of the ballet and what are their relationships with one another?

“The answers lay the groundwork for the piece and help me to design the architecture of the ballet,” said Adams. “Sketching a map of the ballet in its entirety is essential because I do not work chronologically. This method produces a puzzle, and unexpected ideas inevitably appear. What may seem like hurdles to overcome evolve into catalysts for expanded creativity and invention. In addition, the dancers are always an invaluable part of the creative process and dialogue.”

Next up in her choreography journey is creating a new work for the Richmond Ballet next spring. “I have begun to find my own artistic voice, one that I hope will reach audiences, move them, and make them feel uplifted, hopeful, and a little less alone,” said Adams.

Congratulations, Emily!  We're so proud of you!!