Every morning, choreographer Christopher Ruud texts the cast of his new ballet, "DRUM," with the daily schedule and a cryptic forecast of the challenges to come — "Day Two: I am so sore," "Day Three: You’re Screwed."
Ruud’s charisma and comic flair are only part of what drew the cast of nine professional ballet dancers to his physically risky creative vision. His artistic clout, bolstered by 16 years with Ballet West and a short but burgeoning list of choreographic successes, has put him on a lot of people’s radar, including the Utah Arts Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday at Library Square in Salt Lake City.
Utah Arts Festival
The 38th annual Utah Arts Festival features music, visual arts, film, literary arts, kids’ activities, food, workshops and more.
When » Thursday through Sunday, June 26-29, noon to 11 p.m. each day; Christopher Ruud’s dance commission “DRUM” will be performed Saturday, June 28, at 6:30 p.m. on the Festival Stage.
Where » Library Square, 200 East and 400 South, Salt Lake City
Admission » $12 for adults ($10 on Thursday); $6 for people 65 and older; $6 for adults on Thursday and Friday before 3 p.m. (the “lunchtime special”); free for children 12 and younger; $35 for a four-day pass
Information » Go to uaf.org or download the Utah Arts Festival mobile app
Festival director Lisa Sewell said the timing was right this year "to present him with the third dance commission of the festival," which he used to choreograph "DRUM," premiering Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on the Festival Stage.
Ruud was able to quickly gather fellow Ballet West company members before they scattered across the country for the summer to teach and perform. The festival program also will include one of his previous works and one by his father.
"I chose the dancers I did because they are professionals for a reason — they’re used to working hard on a deadline and producing," Ruud said. "To choreograph a brand-new work and rehearse two other ballets, I scheduled two weeks, three hours a day for 11 days — so that’s 33 hours. Yes, I am out of my mind."
The demanding pace was evident at a recent rehearsal for "DRUM," described by the festival as "dance for the sake of dance to the beat of traditional Japanese drums."
"So you’re really going to hate me for this," Ruud told the dancers as they swerved and pulsated around the studio to Japanese drumbeats. "But I want the dynamic between the couples to change here," he continued, demonstrating a lift, shoving his head between dancer Katie Critchlow’s legs and standing straight up, causing Critchlow to drop backward, whipping around in a circle, and returning back up to center.
"Can someone tell me what I just did?" he asked, wide-eyed and out of breath from talking through the lift.
For a few minutes the dancers considered their own body proportion and the practicality of such a complicated lift, to which Ruud conceded, "OK, maybe we save that one for the next dance." The room broke into relieved giggles and nods in agreement.
Despite the deadline challenges, the dancers appreciate the opportunity.
Allison DeBona said it "gives us greater exposure as dancers in and outside of Salt Lake City" and Elizabeth McGrath said she wouldn’t miss "working in this environment and being part of Chris’ process."
Ruud’s exposure to ballet began with his parents, Tomm Ruud and Mary Wood, both Ballet West dancers, with his father going on to become a respected choreographer.
Christopher Ruud’s desire to choreograph grew out a yearning to tell stories through dance the way he saw them being told from backstage as a young child. His professional success includes a confident first attempt for Ballet West’s 2011 "Innovations" program, a 2012 Fellowship Initiative grant from the New York Choreographic Institute and an outstanding piece for "Innovations 2014," titled "Great Souls."
In keeping with the outdoor theme of the Utah Arts Festival, Ruud’s group will also perform "Without Fall," whichhe choreographed for Ballet West II when he briefly was the director. The piece is set to Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons" and questions a world without autumn.
The group also will perform "Mobile," a ballet choreographed by Ruud’s father, Tomm, in 1968.
"My idea of a good time is a 30-pound pack and a 10-mile hike, and a night camping," Ruud said. "The outdoors is where I feel the best, so I’m excited to respond to the environment and perform under the magnificent Utah sky."
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