SALT LAKE CITY — During her 16 years with Ballet West, dancing nearly every major role imaginable — in many cases, several times over — Christiana Bennett has become the face of the company, its prima ballerina, the name that draws the biggest crowds.
For Bennett's many fans, Ballet West’s season-closing program, “Innovations 2015,” will be bittersweet. Though it celebrates the future of ballet with forward-thinking choreography, it will be Bennett’s final performance before she hangs up her pointe shoes.
“The fates were aligning, and I knew it was just time,” Bennett said about her decision to retire, acknowledging her announcement was a surprise not only to Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute but also to many of her fellow dancers.
Her fans were certainly surprised, although ballerinas typically retire in their early- to mid-30s and she’s hinted at it for a few years.
Bennett’s mostly regional fan base exploded to become international when, from 2012-2013, she starred with a handful of other dancers in a reality show about the ups and downs of professional ballet, titled “Breaking Pointe,” which aired on the CW network.
While the show helped Ballet West get its due recognition and provided some unique opportunities for Bennett, she said having her personal life thrust under a microscope during one of her life’s low points was painful.
“It was uncomfortable for me,” said Bennett, whose marriage to fellow principal dancer Christopher Ruud accounted for more airtime than she would have liked. The couple divorced but continued their careers at Ballet West after the TV show wrapped.
“Among the many good things that came from ‘Breaking Pointe’ was knowing it inspired more dancers to follow their dreams. We are living, breathing examples of following our dreams — and it has given me the most amazing life,” said Bennett, adding that her life is once again “incredibly happy.”
Always humble, Bennett became teary-eyed when asked about a gesture her fellow dancers performed for her during the Saturday matinee of last month’s show, just days after she announced her retirement at season’s end. During the final curtain, each dancer laid a flower at Bennett’s feet.
“I will never find the words to thank them for what they did for me,” Bennett said. “Nothing will ever compare to that moment. I didn’t expect it at all.”
Such fanfare was not part of Bennett’s plan.
“I was hoping to just sort of slip out the back door,” she joked. “I didn’t think I deserved such fuss.”
“It was well deserved,” he said. “I have been so lucky to work with Christiana during my eight years with the company. The decision for a dancer to retire is very personal, and I totally support her, but wow, will we miss her. She leaves with the same elegance, purity and humility with which she has run her entire career.”
Fans clamoring for one last glimpse of Bennett onstage will get their wish during the company’s season-closing annual program “Innovations,” which will run May 15-23 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. The program features choreography by three company dancers as well as resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and famed guest choreographer Garrett Smith, a native of Utah.
“Anyone who goes to ‘Innovations’ will get to see Christiana dance,” Sklute said. “She’s cast every night.”
The five-ballet performances will begin with principal dancer Emily Adams’ work titled “Homage.” The ballet draws inspiration from Salvador Dali’s sculptural masterpiece “Homage to Terpsichore,” which features the Greek Muse of dance and chorus. This will be Adams’ fourth creation for Ballet West and her first full-act commission.
Two shorter ballets will come next. First soloist Adrian Fry’s “Pulse” is danced to music by Dvorak and examines the physical aspects of the human heart as well as the existential and philosophical aspects, which evoke emotion and poetry.
Demi-soloist Katlyn Addison will present her first work for Ballet West, titled “The Hunt.” The contemporary ballet is primal and animalistic, and it includes Japanese drums played onstage.
The second act will include Fonte’s driving and athletic “Presto.” The New York Times described “Presto,” a dynamic quartet for two men and two women set to a powerful score by Ezio Bosso, as a piece of “extensions and lifts in which the women are stretched like taffy by their partners.”
Finally, Smith will present his “Facades,” in which the dancing takes place within a giant Rococo picture frame. The ballet examines how emotions, while dealt with during the Baroque period in a way quite different from how they are today, haven’t really changed.
Of inventive reputation and in an intimate environment, “Innovations” acts as a festive finish to a successful season. However, with the impending departure of a fixture of refinement and talent for 16 seasons, many may come just to see Bennett dance one last time.
If you go ...
What: Ballet West's "Innovations 2015"
When: May 15, 16 and 20-23, 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee May 23
Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South
How much: $49.50