Ballet West continues to expand 50 years after its founding

Published: Saturday, May 3 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

Artists of Ballet West perform in "Paquita."

Luke Isley

Editor's note: This is the fourth story in a series highlighting arts organizations around Utah.

In the world of ballet, movement is a lot more than just action — every leap, jump, turn and lift has meaning.

Whether it’s through portraying the first buds of spring, a wicked fairy or a young girl receiving a beloved nutcracker as a gift, a story is told without a single word being uttered.

“It doesn’t require a synopsis,” said Scott Altman, executive director of Ballet West. “You experience it.”

Ballet West has been providing these experiences for 50 years. The company continues to expand its influence through touring, education and outreach programs and by offering Salt Lake City, the state of Utah and even the world unique ballet performances.

Ballet West: The nuts and bolts

It’s not common for a city to have a renowned ballet company like Ballet West.

“We’re very lucky to have a ballet company here,” said Michelle Goldberg, Ballet West’s director of marketing. “There’s not that many of them. People may not realize to have a company that has sustained itself for 50 years and is constantly growing, and again of this caliber, is quite an asset to the city, to the state, to the region and the people that have nurtured it.”

The company builds its legacy in the community through three different levels within the organization: the main company, Ballet West II and the Ballet West Academy.

Ballet West’s main company employs 36 dancers who work 36 weeks out of the year practicing technique, rehearsing choreography and performing productions in Utah and throughout the country.

Ballet West II is the organization’s pre-professional company for dancers who are “more than students but not yet at the complete professional level,” said Adam Sklute, artistic director for Ballet West. The intent is that these dancers will be either taken into the main company or placed within other companies throughout the world within two years. The 12-person company tours to small venues and performs with the main company in larger productions such as “The Nutcracker.”

The organization also runs the Ballet West Academy, which carries the tagline of “Creating dancers, one step at a time.”

The academy provides dance education on various levels for children as young as 3, reaching “the pre-professional student as well as those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of this beautiful and demanding art form,” according to Ballet West's website at balletwest.org.

Sklute oversees the entire organization and strives to create performance opportunities in Ballet West’s productions for every level.

“We really have incorporated all of them into a more holistic look,” Sklute said. “The academy not only develops students or trains students to be whatever they want in whatever capacity they want dancewise, but purposefully trains students to move into the second company and then into the main company, and we’re now seeing more and more students moving from the second company into the main company.”

Recruiting and touring in different locations throughout the country has also played a role in Ballet West’s mission for many years and has reached new heights during Sklute’s tenure as artistic director. The traveling, he said, makes those in the organization “cultural ambassadors to the state of Utah.”

Building from the ground up

Ballet West grew from the simple beginnings of one man’s talent and vision.

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