Ballet West executive director to resign after 15 years
Arts • Executive director says he's leaving company in good artistic, financial position.
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Jóhann Jacobs said his decision not to renew his contract as Ballet West's executive director had been known to company artistic director Adam Sklute and board members for "some time." A press release early Friday made it official.

"This is something I've been toying with, on and off, for a long time. It's not a decision I've reached easily," Jacobs said in a telephone interview after the announcement. "I'm up there in age, and it seemed time to make a change. The ballet is in a great place, artistically, and we've made good progress toward financial stability."

Jacobs said that after fulfilling the last six months of his contract, ending June of 2013, he will pursue other professional opportunities such as consulting. There's still much work to be done, he noted, including the company's capital campaign and raising more money for Ballet West's $33.4 million Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance, to be located next door to the company's Capitol Theatre headquarters.

"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.

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