They knew our company was top-ranked and competitive, but they wanted to give us a chance to set the record straight about the misconceptions. —Adam Sklute, Ballet West artistic director
SALT LAKE CITY — Although the camera crew has packed up and gone home, the air at the Ballet West studios is still heavy with anticipation.
Apprehensions are naturally higher with next weekend’s opening of “Innovations” (May 18-26), which showcases a handful of dancers’ own choreography set on their peers. Add to that the upcoming premiere of the TV reality show featuring Ballet West and you’ve got a pressure-cooker situation.
“There was a collective sigh of relief when the cameras left and the mics were turned off. But now we’re anxious to see what they make of us,” says artistic director Adam Sklute. “Luckily, we have so much going on preparing for ‘Innovations,’ no one really has time to dwell on it.”
The five-ballet program opening Friday includes principal artist Michael Bearden’s expanded “Descent,” artist Aidan DeYoung’s “Eenvoudig,” soloist Easton Smith’s “With You,” demi-soloist Emily Adams’ “Forces at Play” and the return of guest choreographer Susan Shields’ “Grand Synthesis.”
“We are all trying to find our own voice,” says Adams, whose work melds classical technique with a Charlie Chaplin-esque wit. Set to several selections by Schumann and Liszt, it will include a live pianist.
Easton Smith and Michael Bearden’s works have a more narrative quality. Both explore the enigmas and heartaches of love and love lost — but each retains a unique direction.
“The idea for this has been churning for almost 10 years,” says Smith of his work. “It’s very spiritual, and it’s based on my own experience when my grandfather passed away.” His choreography explores the story of a man who, wracked by the loss of his wife, continues to feel her presence.
DeYoung’s work celebrates simple directness in dance. “I wanted to explore diverse physical themes,” he says when explaining why he chose three distinctly different pieces of music as a springboard.
“Innovations” celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Set at the relatively small Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, its success lies in showing audiences a more intimate side of the company.
The curiosity that sustains “Innovations” year after year fueled the TV reality show “Breaking Point” as well. Set to premiere on the CW May 31, fans get a front-row seat in observing the intimate lives of Ballet West. Sklute and many of the dancers concede there will be plenty of drama.
“We’re like a family. We work closely together every day, all day,” says rising young artist Beckanne Sisk. “We deal with casting, jobs on the line, injuries and relationships.”
Hit movies like “Black Swan” (2010), for which Natalie Portman won an Oscar, have depicted directors as game-playing taskmasters and dancers as competitive, self-reproaching perfectionists pushed to the brink of a psychotic break.
“That’s one of the main reasons I was approached by the CW network,” Sklute says. “They knew our company was top-ranked and competitive, but they wanted to give us a chance to set the record straight about the misconceptions.”
Sklute hopes the series will do just that. “Yes, there is certainly a great deal of drama in the ballet world — every situation filmed would have happened whether the cameras were on or off. They asked us to be honest, and we were. But we have enough trust and faith in ourselves to believe we will come out unscathed,” he says with a laugh — albeit an anxious one.
If you go
What: Ballet West’s “Innovations”
When: May 18, 19, 23-26 at 7:30 p.m. and May 19 and 26 at 2:00 p.m.
Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 West Broadway in Salt Lake City
How Much: $50
Tickets: (801) 355-ARTS or www.balletwest.org