Ballet West: On the road again
Dance • Utah's resident company reinvents itself with out-of-state tours.
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Over the past two decades, Ballet West's tours in and out of state declined due to economic conditions.

Until, that is, Adam Sklute became the company's artistic director in 2007. Since then, Ballet West has been seen outside Utah with increasing frequency at such venues as Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, New York City's City Center and the Chicago Dancing Festival.

Ballet West supporters say that's due to Sklute's outgoing and affable personality. He has friends throughout the dance world and knows how to work his connections to good advantage for Ballet West.

Posters of Ballet West adorned the downtown streets of Chicago last August before the company's performance of Balanchine's "Serenade" at the Chicago Dancing Festival, said CDF executive director Gregory Russell. Ballet West appeared on a program that included artists from England's Royal Ballet, the Mark Morris Dance Group and Alvin Ailey II.

Russell approached Sklute with the invitation because of interest in showing "Serenade" at the festival, and because he knew Sklute from their days together as Joffrey Ballet dancers in Chicago.

" 'Serenade' looked very beautiful at our open-air venue," Russell said. "It was a gorgeous night in Chicago, and there were 11,000 people in the audience. It was danced beautifully, and we couldn't have asked for more. We feel the Ballet West appearance was a big success."

Chicago businessman Charlie Gardner knew Sklute during his tenure as associate artistic director of Joffrey Ballet and has followed Sklute's career at Ballet West. Gardner and his wife traveled to Utah for several Ballet West galas and attended the company's Chicago Dancing Festival performance.

"I thought they were the cream of the crop on the program, frankly," Gardner said. "Adam is a multitalented guy with talents for teaching and good eye for quality people and dancers. He maintains friendships across a whole gamut of relationships."

Ballet West board member Shari Quinney said she is delighted with the upswing in Ballet West's touring opportunities. She understands the challenges touring presents and enjoys watching Sklute find ways to make it happen. "Nothing is daunting to this man," she said.

Touring creates national and international presence, Quinney said, and opens opportunities.

"You become able to employ dancers of a much higher caliber, and you are suddenly of interest to choreographers," she said. "For years, people in Utah haven't realized we have a ballet company of national and international stature here in Salt Lake City. Touring increases that stature."

Ballet West's board stipulates that touring activities aren't allowed to lose money, Quinney said. Currently, the company's touring expenses are met by the presenters who book the company, resulting in a break-even scenario. For prestigious invitations, such as the Kennedy Center and New York City Center, donors have covered extra costs.

Sklute believes touring could become profitable in the future — if the company is able to string together dates in several cities for future tours. But touring has advantages for his company that go beyond building its reputation and possibly fattening its wallet.

"Dancers want to perform," he said. "They need to perform. It takes a month to get a program up on its feet for one show or 400 shows. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to work for a month and only do one or two shows? Dancers want to get out and perform for different audiences in different communities. It gives them a chance to continue to perfect their stagecraft, and it's exciting and enlivening."

This week, Ballet West will perform in Las Vegas on a program celebrating Robert Joffrey's legacy through performances by companies directed by his disciples. Ballet West will perform Jiri Kylian's "Sinfonietta," which it will also perform next April in Salt Lake City.

Utah audiences will see a more seasoned performance of the fast, thrilling ballet as a result, Sklute said.

Sklute's early career was with Joffrey II, the first successful "second company" in the United States. Joffrey II took ballet performances to venues that couldn't present the main company, and Sklute is developing a similar role for Ballet West's apprentice company, Ballet West II.

Ballet West II is already providing performances for Utah schoolchildren, but Sklute expanded the young company's role this year. Ballet West II toured through Iowa in September, giving school performances and evening shows that introduced the Ballet West brand to a new audience.

Sklute's networking prowess and ability to get Ballet West on the road bring benefits to Utah, said Ballet West executive director Johann Jacobs.

A portion of Sklute's ability to build useful relationships in the dance world comes from his position as a judge of Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet scholarship competition. Sklute makes use of these contacts in creating opportunities for touring, developing new work for Ballet West, and attracting dancers to the company, Jacobs said.

"Touring makes for a much more interesting organization," Jacobs said. "It enlivens us with new challenges and perspectives and allows Ballet West to act as a cultural ambassador for the state of Utah."

Touring will continue to increase for Ballet West. Negotiations are under way to bring Ballet West back to Chicago — not as part of a festival, but for a series of solo performances at a downtown theater. And the company has a verbal agreement to give a full performance at the prestigious Wolf Trap venue in Virginia next August.

Other touring possibilities are under discussion, as are efforts to set new ballets on the company. Jacobs gives credit to Sklute for revitalizing the company. "There is a buzz around Ballet West that I haven't felt for a long time," he said. —

Ballet West outside Utah

P Ballet West's next touring stop is Las Vegas, where the company will present three preview performances of Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian's "Sinfonietta" to the music of Leos Janácek, which Ballet West will perform in Salt Lake City next April.

The invitation from Nevada Ballet Theatre celebrates the late Robert Joffrey's living legacy through performances by companies directed by Joffrey's dance disciples. Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute began his dance career at Chicago's Joffrey Ballet in the mid-1980s and was eventually promoted to associate artistic director.

For the Vegas concert, other companies on the program are Nevada Ballet Theatre, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Ticket information • Visit www.nevadaballet.com/html/NBT39_SingleTickets.html#BUY

Other touring shows

Since Adam Sklute became Ballet West's artistic director in 2007, the company has been seen outside Utah with increasing frequency, including:

June 10-11 2008 • Kennedy Center's "Ballet Across America," Washington, D.C.

Sept. 31-Oct. 1, 2009 • New York City Center's Fall for Dance Festival, New York

Oct. 2-3, 2009 • CaDance's Laguna Dance Festival, California

Aug. 27-28, 2010 • Chicago Dancing Festival, Illinois

Sept. 17-22, 2010 • Tour of multiple venues in Iowa (Ballet West II)