At Ballet West’s National Choreographic Festival, women get rare chance to play leading role in dancemaking

(Courtesy photograph by Beau Pearson) Allison DeBona, Ballet West first soloist, and Chase O'Connell, principal artist, in Africa Guzmán's "Sweet and Bitter."

For years, dance officials have questioned the metaphorical glass slipper that has kept the work of female choreographers off the world’s stages. That’s a complicated irony in an art form that celebrates female physicality.

Now Ballet West is making news with its showcase of female dancemakers at the company’s second National Choreographic Festival. In ballet, women are celebrated as dancers, teachers and coaches but simply aren’t offered level stages in creating new dances.

The festival’s all-female choreographic slate is still rare — possibly groundbreaking — in the classical dance world, according to Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute. The two-weekend run (May 17-19 and 24-26) features works by six female choreographers and four visiting companies led by women, along with Ballet West performances.

The festival’s lineup has been three years in the planning, but the timing seems especially auspicious as the #MeToo movement has raised questions in the arts world about limited opportunities for female artists.

“Look, a good choreographer is a good choreographer,” Sklute says, “but there’s been an inequity in terms of building and developing and producing works by women over the years.”

(Courtesy photograph by Beau Pearson) Ballet West dancers rehearse Australian choreographer Natalie Weir's "Jabula," which is being remade for the Utah company.

Richmond Ballet will perform the first weekend, under the direction of Stoner Winslett, the longest-running female artistic director in the country, who has built the company’s reputation for creating new, innovative work, Sklute says. She commissioned “Akwarium,” by Polish choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska, who was named to “Dance” magazine’s “25 to Watch” list last year.

Also performing is the Washington Ballet, now led by Julie Kent, formerly one of the country’s leading ballerinas, and she is focusing the company to create elegant, beautiful dance, Sklute says. The company will perform “Myriad,” a work by Gemma Bond, a rising star of a choreographer who dances with the American Ballet Theater.

Ballet West will perform Australian choreographer Natalie Weir’s “Jabula,” a 1994 solo dance that is being remade for the Utah dancers.

In the second weekend, Victoria Morgan, a former Ballet West principal dancer trained under Willam F. Christensen, will return to her native Utah. For 20 years, she has led the Cincinnati Ballet, where she hired resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, who started out as a hip-hop dancer.

(Courtesy photograph by Beau Pearson) Ballet West dancers Katlyn Addison and Hadriel Diniz in in Africa Guzmán's "Sweet and Bitter."

Also performing will be Charlotte Ballet, under the direction of Hope Muir, who in the past year has “literally put that company on the map, out of the blue, all of a sudden everyone in the dance world is hearing about the Charlotte Ballet,” Sklute says.The company will be performing a new work by choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams.

Ballet West will perform a world premiere of Spanish choreographer Africa Guzmán’s “Sweet and Bitter,” which the company performed as a work-in-progress last October at New York’s Joyce Theatre.

(Courtesy photograph by Beau Pearson) Soloist Katlyn Addison in Africa Guzmán's "Sweet and Bitter."

Next year, the showcase will be renamed the World Choreographic Festival to feature international companies. Sklute aims for the Ballet West festival to also promote the passion of Utah’s audiences and to allow the dance world to “experience what’s so wonderful about where we live.”

While selling more tickets is always the goal, “I will say, per capita, we have better ticket sales than some of the largest metro areas in the country,” Sklute says.

Dance this way<br>Ballet West National Choreographic Festival.<br>When • Program A, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 17-19, and 2 p.m. Saturday, May 19; Program B, 7:30 p.m. May 24-26, and 2 p.m. May 26.<br>Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Jeanné Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.<br>Tickets • $49.50 at arttix.artsaltlake.org or 801-355-7522.<br>Also • A free panel about women in ballet leadership roles will be held at 6 p.m. May 23 at the Ballet Center’s fourth-floor studio, 52 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.

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