The wait is over: Ballet West has a new artistic director.
After eight months of intensive searching, Ballet West said Tuesday that Adam Sklute will take the company's helm. Sklute has been the associate artistic director for the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet since 2005 and a member of the company for 25 years.
He will assume the director's job at Ballet West in a few months, although the specific date is yet to be named, according to the company.
Sklute acknowledges that many people will be scrutinizing his appointment, after his predecessor, Jonas Kage, and Ballet West parted company on less than friendly terms.
"I have no intention of taking away the heritage of the company, which was started by Willam F. Christensen and continued through Bruce Marks, John Hart and Jonas Kage," Sklute said by phone from a tour stop in East Lansing, Mich. "I have respect for all of those wonderful men. I do know how proud and protective the community is of Ballet West. And it should be.
"I will not take anything away from the legacy, and I'm excited to begin working with the dancers and meeting the community. I am honored to be a part of the Ballet West history."
Sklute said he will keep the tradition of the much-loved full-length ballets, as well as introduce new works to the company.
"Ballet West has a tradition of 'Swan Lake' and 'Sleeping Beauty"' Sklute said. "I am not going to change that tradition, but new works are the life-blood of the art. And there are some amazing works that I would like to set on the company. I believe that dancers thrive on having world-premiere works set on them, and I would like to see that happen as well."
Sklute is no stranger to Christensen and his technique. Sklute, who is from Berkeley, Calif., grew up watching the San Francisco Ballet, which, in its formative years, was directed by Christensen and his brother Lew. Sklute also began his dance training at the Oakland Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet schools the latter founded by Harold Christensen, brother of Lew and Willam.
"And I have followed Ballet West since I can remember," said Sklute. "When I first started dancing, Bruce Marks was the artistic director."
Ballet West executive board chairman Dan Miller says Sklute was the perfect candidate for the job.
"We had six final candidates whom we brought to Salt Lake City," said Miller. "And we had them teach company classes, train with the dancers and undergo an array of questioning from the staff, the dancers and the board. With every one, except Adam, we had some concerns. But he was the one that all of us agreed on."
Sklute also worked with Joffrey's marketing and development departments and worked with the board, said Miller. "That's something we were looking for as well. Ballet West has been able to operate in the black these past two years, and we want to continue."
The search committee included Bene Arnold, former Ballet West ballet mistress; Jim Clark, interim dean of the Gore School of Business at Westminster College; Anne Cullimore-Decker, former chair of the Utah Arts Council; Stephanie Harpst, Ballet West board member; Johann Jacobs, Ballet West executive director; Peter Meldrum, search-committee chair; Dan Miller, Ballet West board chairman; Shari Quinney, board member; Christiana Bennett, principal dancer; and Sarah West, granddaughter of Ballet West founder Christensen.
Bennett said the dancers were nervous when it came to working with and meeting a new artistic director. "Speaking from a dancer's point of view," she said, "we wanted someone who was a good person for the job. Ballet West is at a turning point, and we are ready to take the next step. And Mr. Sklute was the obvious choice."
Sklute taught two company classes and showed the dancers that he knows how the body works. He also had to endure a question-and-answer session with the dancers, said Bennett. "He warmed us up and right away worked in some technical works that got us ready for the day. And he met with the dancers for 1 1/2 hours to answer their questions."
Meldrum said the committee received 38 applicants from around the world. "Our main concern was making sure we found a director that could guide Ballet West, which has a rich history and reputation that started with its founding by Willam F. Christensen," said Meldrum. "The new artistic director needed to have a vision to where he wanted to take the company and what steps needed to be made."Also on a financial note, the artistic director needed to be able to work within our resources."
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