Dan Miller, chair of the ballet's board of directors, called Sklute "the right person to lead Ballet West to new heights." Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon greeted Sklute with, "Welcome, Adam. We expect great things out of you." Even the first question from the media was about whether Sklute felt pressures in trying to meet such lofty expectations.
"Pressures?" he repeated, with what appeared to be genuine surprise. "I don't know if they've even dawned on me yet."
They will soon. Ballet West, like many performing-arts companies across the country in recent years, has struggled with declining attendance and revenues. The venerable company also endured a turbulent period last spring when longtime artistic director Jonas Kåge left abruptly, upsetting some patrons who believed he was forced out.
Sklute, 42, comes to Utah from Chicago, where he has been associate artistic director of the prestigious Joffrey Ballet. Although Ballet West announced his hiring March 13, Wednesday marked Sklute's public debut in Utah. He has been juggling both jobs for the past month and expects to move to Salt Lake City in May or June.
"I'm itching to get started," he said Wednesday to anyone who would listen. Wearing a gray suit, a Ballet West name tag and a near-constant smile, the energetic Sklute worked the Capitol Theatre lobby like the eager new hire that he is, shaking hands and presumably trying to remember a lot of new names.
"I have some big shoes to fill. And I am fully prepared to do that," Sklute said before praising Ballet West's legacy under the legendary Willam Christensen, who co-founded the company in 1963. Sklute also reaffirmed his pledge to programming both classic and contemporary ballets that will engage patrons, not leave them cold.
"I want to challenge audiences. I want to inspire audiences. But first and foremost I want to entertain audiences," he said.
Sklute's career with the Joffrey Ballet has spanned more than 20 years. He was one of the last dancers personally selected by Robert Joffrey, who founded the troupe in New York City in 1956 with Gerald Arpino. Sklute has spent the past 12 years in leadership positions at the Joffrey and would have likely been a strong candidate to succeed Arpino, who is expected to retire soon as the Joffrey's artistic director.
But Sklute said he pursued the Ballet West job instead because "I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone."
Sklute is looking for a house in Salt Lake City and will remain in town until Sunday, attending Ballet West rehearsals and performances of "Giselle." Dancers, many of whom attended Wednesday's event, say they are already excited about working with him.
"I think he's great. I like his energy and his passion," said dancer Heather Thackeray, now in her 16th season with the company. "I feel like he'll be able to deepen what we already have."