"We love having the guy," said Victor Rickman, senior vice president of UBS Financial Services and member of Ballet West's board. "He's been instrumental in keeping the company alive, and he'll keep working with the company through the end of his contract."
The 62-year-old native of Johannesburg, South Africa, said he was proud to leave Utah's premier professional ballet company on a strong note. Jacobs first visited Salt Lake City in his early 30s, moving here permanently in 1979. Jacobs worked as assistant director of the Salt Lake Arts Council and financial controller for the Sundance Institute before moving to Portland, Ore., where he worked 12 years as managing director of Oregon Ballet Theatre.
Jacobs returned to Salt Lake City in 1998 when he replaced Susan Barrell as the company's executive director. He saw Ballet West through some of its most turbulent years, including a highly publicized disagreement with artistic director Jonas Kåge that led to Kåge's departure in 2006. The company struggled through financial difficulties two years later. According to 990 form tax filings, Ballet West's expenses exceeded its revenues in 2008, leaving it $2.1 million in the red.
Jacobs worked with the company's board, staff and dance members to wrestle Ballet West free from the grips of the Great Recession, cutting its 2009-10 operating budget. The company cut four administrative positions, froze salaries and secured concessions from three unions it operated with. Jacobs himself was not immune; according to the nonprofit's tax records, his compensation was reduced from $169,650 in 2008 to $137,155 in 2010.
Harry Rosenthal, treasurer of Ballet West's board of directors, told The Salt Lake Tribune in October that financial prospects for the company were slowly, but steadily, improving. The company's latest available tax records, from 2010, show revenues exceeded expenses by $416,000.
Jacobs said monetary concerns had no bearing on the decision not to renew his contract. Cuts in his own compensation were all part of making sure "the pain was shared" at a time when everyone was making sacrifices, he said. "It's really a case of timing, and meeting new challenges for myself," he said. "I'm very proud that Ballet West survived through those difficult times. The company has never looked better, with an exceptional corps of artists and educational programs. There's a lot we can celebrate, not just me personally, but our dancers and the board as well."
Jacobs added: "It's an exciting and also scary time. I've identified with this company, both personally and professionally, for so long."
Ballet West said in a statement released Friday that it would undertake a national search for Jacobs' replacement in the next few months to ensure a smooth transition into new leadership.