Salt Lake City’s Ballet West finding strong footing amid TV series, new home base
Hedy Weiss Sun-Times Theater Critic October 2, 2013 6:04PM
A “reconceived” “Sleeping Beauty” will be presented in its entirety by Ballet West Oct. 4-5 at the Auditorium Theatre.
Ballet West, Oct. 4-6 Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress. $30-$90. (800) 892-2787; AuditoriumTheatre.org.
Updated: October 3, 2013 8:04AM
Ballet West, established in Salt Lake City in 1963, was a company to reckon with in the dance world long before the advent of “Breaking Pointe.” But Adam Sklute, the troupe’s artistic director, is the first to admit things haven’t been quite the same since his troupe became the focus of that reality television series.
Since its 2012 debut, the CW network show (devised and produced by BBC Worldwide), has taken viewers inside the rehearsal studios, backstage areas and apartments of its dancers and staff, suggesting the competition, personal crises and grueling discipline that are all part of the art. And now, as Ballet West celebrates its 50th anniversary (and awaits word about whether “Breaking Pointe” will be picked up for a third season), it is reaping the benefits of its exposure to a whole new potential “live” audience.
“We have just under a million viewers, which is good for CW,” said Sklute, who, until 2007, was a dancer, ballet master and associate director with The Joffrey Ballet. “But we also are CW’s highest ranking show for online and social media trending. We didn’t do this for the ballet clique. We wanted to attract those unfamiliar with ballet.”
Of course traditional ballet fans will not want to miss this superb company’s visit to Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre this weekend. With live musical accompaniment by the Chicago Sinfonietta, it will perform the rarely seen full-length classic “Sleeping Beauty,” “reconceived and edited” by Sklute, and set to the lustrous Tchaikovsky score.
Ballet West also will dance a mixed bill Oct. 6 featuring Val Caniparoli’s intriguing interactive piece, “The Lottery,” inspired by the famous Shirley Jackson story and set to an original score by Robert Moran; the world premiere of “Presto,” resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s work to music by contemporary Italian composer Ezio Bosso (described by Sklute as “at once sculptural and abstract, yet profoundly emotional and intense”); and excerpts from “Jewels,”by George Balanchine, the choreographer with whom the company’s founder, William F. Christensen, had a strong professional connection.
“Yes, life has changed since all those cameras came in with ‘Breaking Pointe’,” Sklute admitted. “But it has certainly helped us in many ways. We were invited back to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and there is increased interest in touring engagements. We now have viewers in Germany, Australia, Finland and Singapore, where the show is aired. It has been a great boost to our institutional marketing. And the caliber of enrollment in our Academy has certainly seen a big jump.”
Meanwhile, the company (with its 38 dancers, 11 second company members, and a thriving school) is planning for its new home in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. A public-private partnership, the facility will be located immediately adjacent to its home theater and contain six studios, dressing rooms, a costume shop and more.
“Salt Lake is a great supporter of the arts,” said Sklute.
Sklute’s “The Sleeping Beauty” is similar to the version danced by the Royal Ballet, but is more “allegorical.”
“The ‘Carabosse’ or wicked fairy godmother character is not the traditional old hag but as beautiful as the other fairies — just evil and jealous. And the fairies who come bearing gifts to the princess are named ‘Joy,’ ‘Beauty,’ and ‘Kindness,’ with the Lilac Fairy called ‘Wisdom’. The Princes are from the North (Viking), South (African), East (Indian) and West (English). And the Act III fairy tale characters include the usual Bluebirds and Red Riding Hood, but also a nod to Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard and Mother Goose.”
“The Lottery,” set in a small American town complete with white picket fences, comes with a highly unusual twist.
“The community takes part in this annual barbaric ritual, sacrificing one of its own for the good of all by drawing ballots to see who will be chosen,” said Sklute. “In Caniparoli’s version, all 14 dancers on stage choose their fate during the performance, all 14 have learned the variation that follows, and any one of them will have to dance it without prior warning. So in a way, this is our tribute to the 100th anniversary of ‘The Rite of Spring’.”
♦ “Sleeping Beauty” by Ballet West, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 3 p.m. Oct. 6, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress. (800) 892-2787; auditoriumtheatre.org.