I approach the subject of Ballet West with deep personal affection, having served the past year as the dance company's board chair. But the past few weeks have validated my love and admiration for Utah's premiere dance company.
Due to critical acclaim, Ballet West was selected to stage "The Nutcracker" at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5-9. We were so proud to have been selected to perform at what is arguably this nation's premier artistic venue.
The 2,300 seats in the Kennedy Center's Opera House were full on opening night and for each performance of the sold-out five-day run.
I wish all Utahns could have been there, not only to witness the stunning performance of our artists but to see the beaming faces of some Ballet West Board members who were in attendance.
The New York Times' dance critic was effusive regarding Ballet West's "Nutcracker," calling it "one of the best productions I've ever seen."
The thunderous applause of the full house and the audience's standing ovation patrons who are treated to the best of the best year-round is another indication of how fortunate Utahns are to have Ballet West in our community.
These artists regularly bring joy, grace and beauty to our lives, and now our nation's capital has had a taste. (In a generous display of true corporate citizenship, Zions Bank hosted a reception prior to the opening-night performance.)
As if that weren't enough, Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times' dance critic, in a Dec. 11 piece about male dancers in various ballet companies' productions of "The Nutcracker," wrote the following about Ballet West dancer Rex Tilton: "Watching Ballet West, based in Salt Lake City, on Thursday, during its just concluded 'Nutcracker' [choreographed by Willam Christensen] at the Kennedy Center in Washington, it struck me that Rex Tilton may well be the most versatile young male dancer in America."
Those are words every artist dreams about reading from the nation's most influential critics and dance aficionados. Utahns can see Rex perform, regularly, in Salt Lake City. But I must add that, in my humble opinion, all of Ballet West's dancers are at the pinnacle of artistic talent and deserve similar praise.
But The Times' critic wasn't the only national voice who was impressed. The Washington Post's Sarah Kaufman hailed Ballet West's production, too.
"Ballet West's production, which opened Wednesday at the Kennedy Center, fairly bursts with comfort and joy. … This bright-spirited production, from Salt Lake City's exceedingly handsome ballet company, is sanctified by history, and deservedly so," she wrote, judging, "From end to end, this 'Nutcracker' was put over with an effervescent touch."
Coming on the heels of the six-episode BBC Worldwide Production series "Breaking Pointe," which starred Ballet West and was watched by almost 1 million viewers each week, the past year has been artistically rewarding for the company.
We hope our fellow Utahns will continue to support Ballet West, which is now being recognized as one of the nation's finest dance companies.
Shahab Saeed is board chair of Ballet West.