Utah dancers and audiences of any stripe have Ballet West to thank or damn for national attention the 40-member ballet company brought to this geographically large state with a small population.
Ballet West impenitently plunged itself into the national spotlight last summer with the docu-reality television debut "Breaking Pointe" and earned an invitation to the nation's capital this December to perform "The Nutcracker" at The Kennedy Center.
The company earned major buzz earlier, thanks to New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay's rave review of its 2009 Diaghilev anthology "Treasures of the Ballets Russes," as well as his 2010 review of "The Nutcracker." The attention has been healthy for dancers, arts lovers and elected officials alike, as our state is starting to be known for more than snow and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Despite how welcome such hype is for local promoters, Ballet West is outranked nationally by big-city troupes such as the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater and San Francisco Ballet. But it's fair to claim the company might be somewhere in the Top 10. And if Ballet West ranks eighth out of 50 ballet companies, consider that Utah is 38th in population.
Wendy Perron, editor-in-chief of Dance magazine, flew into town last month for the first time in 25 years to see Ballet West's world premiere of "The Lottery." While in Salt Lake City, she met with Repertory Dance Theatre director Linda Smith and University of Utah dance professors. The message to the other dance-related industries in Utah: Be vigilant because, like it or not, you're being watched. I've been writing for Dance magazine for many years, yet Perron's visit suggests there are more national-caliber stories arising out of Salt Lake City's dance scene.
In other 2012 news:
Stepping down • Dancer Jo Blake will retire from Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company after nine years. Blake plans to stay in town, but it's worth honoring his long commitment to the modern-dance company. Also, the company begins an international search for a new artistic director on the eve of its 50th-anniversary season, as Charlotte Boye-Christensen steps down to pursue more international choreography projects.
Gambling on 'The Lottery' • Ballet West took a chance on developing Val Caniparoli's vision of making a dance out of one of the 20th century's most notorious short stories and it paid off artistically. The ballet found a way to stage the concept of interactivity which seems to be a holy grail for nearly every performing-arts company by taking seriously the story's gruesome ending. And company members leaped at the challenge of a different dancer earning the solo at each performance. Appreciation should go to the funding of composer Robert Moran's music by The Kipper Family Foundation and Milton Steele Charitable Fund, as Moran's composition was essential to the success of the work.
Repertory Dance Theatre reaches out • Tyler Orcutt, who joined the company this season, adds technical expertise and vitality to RDT's lineup, while the company continues to reach out to new audiences thanks to a promotion with the Real Salt Lake soccer team and its upcoming concert, "Women of Valor," which honors women in the military.
Where is the audience? • The nationally acclaimed Trey McIntyre Project visiting from its Boise homebase performed at Kingsbury Hall last month, just one representative of the high-caliber touring companies that regularly visit Salt Lake City and Park City. The work was astoundingly beautiful, emotionally engaging, original and highly detailed. The only downside was that more of the local dance world didn't turn out.
Small spaces • Sugar Space founder Brittany Reese took the idea of collaboration seriously with this year's experimental "co.da." The company has no single artistic director, but instead offers six-month stints, as well as short-term contracts for dancers and a home base for choreographers to produce new work.
Dance at the U. • The news at the University of Utah is that new professors are coming in the modern-dance and ballet departments.