Sklute immediately fell in love with the idea—especially when he discovered that the company had not produced a dancer-choreographed program in nine years. “New choreography is so vital. It pushes the art form forward,” Sklute says. “I didn’t have to be asked twice; I was all for it.”
Sklute is a firm believer that every artist has something important to communicate and that it is critical to provide as many outlets as possible for creative expression. “It is not only important to let dancers choreograph their own work,” Sklute explains, “but to be choreographed on. I think every dancer should have the chance to have work created especially with their abilities and unique skills in mind.”
The first stage of planning the dancer-choreographed program—eventually dubbed Innovations—was a call for written applications from Ballet West’s dancers. Sklute initially received nine applications, then narrowed the final number of participants down to three by allowing the six most promising applicants to workshop their pieces with Ballet West’s pre-professional Ballet West II students. Christopher Rudd, Megan Furse and Peggy Dolkas were the artists whom Sklute eventually selected to produce three separate 10-minute world-premiere works.
“I wanted to see how the dancers would use the music. I looked for work that was interesting, unique and had something to say,” Sklute says. “I also wanted a well-balanced final program with plenty of contemporary elements.”
Dolkas says that the transition from dancer to choreographer was slightly intimidating but ultimately fun. Her piece—titled “Yes, But How Did You Get There?”—is an abstract exploration of how small, transitional movements impact larger, more dramatic ones. Dolkas explains that her first ballet teacher encouraged her to value every movement, no matter how small. When she began to appreciate the transitional steps as well as large jumps and impressive extensions, she feels that she transitioned from a mere imitator of movement to a true artist.
“For me, music initiates everything,” Dolkas says. “My boyfriend is a DJ, so I decided to have him help me create a soundtrack that has a mix-tape feel.” The resulting score combines samples from the movie Kill Bill, songs from the band The Faint and, according to Dolkas, “this 1950s record for beginning ballet students I found at [Deseret Industries]. It has funny sections and serious sections.”
Dolkas says that she was inspired by choreographer Yuri Killian’s declaration that “everyone has their own ideas about how music passes through the body.” She hopes that her piece will give the audience some insight into the process from learning one’s first barre exercise to blossoming into a seasoned artist.
As the month of May drew near, Sklute decided to open Innovations with James Canfield’s “Equinox,” a well-established piece in Ballet West’s repertory that allows the entire company to participate. Sklute also asked internationally known choreographer Susan Shields to contribute a short work. “I called her up and said, ‘I’m a big fan. Now would you be interested in choreographing something in a really short span of time on a shoestring budget?’ And, of course, she said ‘yes,’” Sklute jokes.
The experimental nature of Innovations made the program a gamble from the onset, but Sklute says that three out of four scheduled performances at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center have already sold out. “I have no idea how the audience is going to respond,” Sklute says. “These pieces are varied, unusual and not lengthy.
“There are so many different styles of music and movement. I think there’s a little something for everyone.”
INNOVATIONS @ Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, May 28-31. 801-355-2787, BalletWest.org