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Maggie Wright remembers when she made it into the Ballet West corps in 1987.

"I was a student up at the University of Utah and my friend had set up an audition with Ballet West," said Wright. "I was asked to come along, and they said I could audition, too. The sad thing was I got accepted and she didn't."

Thus started Wright's career with Ballet West. Wright will retire as a dancer at the end of this season.

At Ballet West's opening-night performance of "Evening of Ballets" this Friday, artistic director Jonas Kage will honor Wright in a short ceremony.

Wright sat down with the Deseret Morning News and looked back at her career — under two artistic directors — with fondness.

When she joined the company, John Hart was the artistic director.

"With Mr. Hart, I learned to do things on my own," she said. "There wasn't a lot of time for him to work with me one-on-one. I had to create my own character (interpretations). He was the type that would not overcoach. I appreciated the fact that he made me earn my place in the company."

Under Hart's direction, Wright became principal ballerina in 1993. The road to that point was filled with challenges and rewards.

"I wasn't handed anything easily," she said. "In fact, there weren't a lot of people that were. We worked at it. I remember my first Sugar Plum in 'The Nutcracker.' I was something like the fifth cast that performed after Christmas. And it was like that with other roles. I proved myself to him, to me and to the company."

Wright remembers when she landed the opening night of "Swan Lake" back in 1998.

"I was on the stairs waiting for my cue," she said. "When the 'Aurora' music started, I looked around and knew I was ready. I was prepared for the dance. I was confident, and I knew I could do the job."

Other leads Wright danced while Hart was director include Val Caniparoli's "Lady of the Camelias," Andre Prokovsky's "Anna Karenina" (at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1991) and Ben Stevenson's "Coppelia."

"In fact, my first run through of 'Anna' was in the studio," said Wright. "When I actually stepped on stage, it was at the Kennedy Center in front of 19,000 people."

When Ballet West went through a transition with new artistic director, Jonas Kage in 1996, Wright was a little tentative.

"When Jonas came, I didn't know if my contract would be renewed," she said. "I felt a time of instability. But he brought in some fabulous repertory and approached the company from different angles and the appearance of the dancers.

"He gave me opportunities that I never would have had. I was able to perform in European ballets. I feel like I've danced in two different companies."

Under Kage's direction, Wright danced leads in "Cinderella," Peter Schaufuss' "La Sylphide," Bridget Cullberg's "Miss Julie," Kage's "Giselle" and John Cranko's "The Taming of the Shrew," to name a few.

"I remember once I made principal, the work didn't end," said Wright. "You feel the pressure. You feel like you must carry a full-length program. You need to know you can carry an evening throughout a repertory program."

Wright began dancing at the age of 5. She started with movement classes and then jazz and modern. She knew she wanted to be a dancer.

Then the ballet classes came. She ate them up and told her parents that she wanted to be a ballerina.

Then came college. Her parents wanted her to attend a university. Wright wanted to find a school that had a good ballet department. She did the research and found the University of Utah.

"And that's where it all began," she said.

In addition to the big leading roles, Wright loved working in the repertory programs.

"There are so many that challenged my thinking and training," she said.

Eddy Toussaint's "Bonjour Brel," Caniparoli's "Lambarena" and Christopher Bruce's "Ghost Dances" were some of her career highlights.

"My husband (Dennis Tesch) told me that it was 'Brel' that put me on the map," said Wright.

While Wright, 39, now a mother of two — Arden, 5, and Mary Ann, 2 months — will not be dancing much on stage with Ballet West, she will be active in the company's administrative offices.

"I will be working with Peter Christie and the company's educational outreach programs," she said. "I'll be helping people realize that ballet isn't a scary thing. I have all this knowledge inside of me, and I want to share it."


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