A Sundance for Dance? Ballet West's National Choreographic Festival

May 15, 2017

A breath of fresh choreographic air is coming to Salt Lake City. Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute has invited companies from across the country to join Ballet West for the first annual National Choreographic Festival, May 19–20 and 26–27. Over the course of two weekends and two different programs, premieres and recently acquired repertory will be performed in the new, state-of-the-art Eccles Theater.

“When I arrived at Ballet West 10 years ago, there had been no new choreography, so we began the annual Innovations Program encouraging company dancers to choreograph, and gave emerging choreographers a platform to create on Ballet West,” explains Sklute. For the 10th anniversary of the program, Sklute decided to broaden it into two separate initiatives. Works from Within focuses exclusively on Ballet West company dancers, while the National Choreographic Festival is a collaborative program of new work by renowned and up-and-coming choreographers presented by visiting companies and Ballet West. “I approached a variety of companies. We wanted to present a broad swath of what American dance looks like,” he says.

Ballet West will perform three new works at the festival, including premieres by current resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and former resident choreographer Val Caniparoli, as well as a third piece, Oliver Oguma’s Tremor, chosen from this year’s Works from Within program that took place in March. As the festival develops, Sklute’s dream is to present solely world premieres, but for this inaugural year the guest companies are showing works created or staged recently that have not yet toured. Pennsylvania Ballet is bringing Trey McIntyre’s THE ACCIDENTAL. Oregon Ballet Theatre is presenting Helen Pickett’s Terra. Sarasota Ballet will perform Ricardo Graziano’s In a State of Weightlessness, and Pacific Northwest Ballet is staging Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s duet Before After.

Already planning ahead, next year’s programming will highlight female choreographers and companies run by female directors. Further down the line, Sklute is excited for the possibility of fringe festivals, involving regional school programs and a choreographic competition. “We want this festival for choreography to do what the Sundance Film Festival does for film—create a hub for creativity in dance,” says Sklute.