Fifteen years ago, Adam Sklute was serving as the Associate Director of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, IL. “In 2007, I got a tiny email asking if I would be interested in applying for the Artistic Directorship of Ballet West.” Call it fate, destiny or pure chance, but it seems that this relationship was meant to be. Sklute now oversees nearly every artistic aspect of Ballet West and the Ballet West Academy in downtown Salt Lake and each season’s productions. One production in particular may be the most beloved out of all shows past and present: the company’s yearly performance of the Nutcracker.
Salt of the Earth: the People & Places of Salt Lake
“Ballet West has a great legacy and history with our production of the Nutcracker,” says Sklute. It all began when the first ballet company in America (the San Francisco Ballet) was founded by Brigham City, Utah native Willam Christensen. In 1944, Christensen choreographed the first full-length version of the Nutcracker in the United States. When he returned to Utah and founded Ballet West, he brought this version of the Nutcracker with him. Since 1955, Salt Lake has been home to the original and longest running performance of this beloved holiday classic in the country.
The Ballet West performance of the Nutcracker is not only treasured by Salt Lake locals. The show has drawn praise from visitors, chief amongst them New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay. In a 2010 review, he declared it “one of the best productions I have ever seen.” This was after traveling around the country to see as many performances as possible. High marks indeed, but it should come as no surprise when you consider Ballet West’s place amongst the best dance companies in America.
"Ballet West is considered one of America’s top ten ballet companies,” Sklute tells us with measured pride. He also points out that the other companies in the top ten serve much larger populations than Salt Lake. This, he says, is just one example of the commitment the community has to arts and culture. The Ballet West Academy that Sklute has built is also a driver of the troupe’s success. It is the primary source of dancers in the company. Brazil, France, Greece, and yes, Utah are just a few of the locales where the dancers hail from. “We are really excited about the future of Ballet West, the academy is growing in leaps and bounds,” Sklute declares with enthusiasm.
With his resume and achievements, Sklute could likely find a new home almost anywhere in the world; however, he seems quite content to be here in Salt Lake. He points to the Utah Symphony, Opera, theater groups, and museums as proof of a thriving cultural center. “We have all of it here,” he says, “and that’s what I love about living here.” He has big plans for the future of Ballet West, and a vision of how the company can expand to an even larger audience. “As we continue to build our reputation, we continue to go out touring throughout the country and throughout the world where we can be a great ambassador for the arts in the State of Utah.” Fifteen years in, and Sklute has the gusto of someone who just took on the role.
If you are visiting Salt Lake during ballet season, a performance by the company deserves a place on your to-do list. The Capitol Theatre, home to Ballet West, is just a short walk or train ride away from almost every hotel in the downtown area. This season's remaining performances include The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and The Wedding. Tickets to all shows can be purchased from the Ballet West website. Our thanks go out to Adam Sklute and the entire Ballet West Company and Academy for their role in making the arts and culture scene in Salt Lake a vibrant one, and for being part of our Salt of the Earth series.