by Leigh Witchel
Adam Sklute and I were classmates in New York back in the 80s. His career led him first to the Joffrey Ballet dancing in New York, and then with the company on to Chicago where he moved from dancer, to ballet master and finally to associate director. In 2007 he moved to Salt Lake City and took over the directorship of Ballet West. This week, the company will be at The Joyce Theater, bringing a varied mixed repertory program including contemporary works by Nicolo Fonte, Val Caniparoli and Africa Guzman and classical duets by Balanchine and Arpino.
As the years went by, we had the good fortune of renewing an even closer friendship; I’ve seen the company both on tour and during visits to Salt Lake, and asked Adam if we could chat about a few of the dancers for a Radar. We’re both bunheads who can happily spend hours analyzing the finer points of a performance, and the conversation was interesting enough that The Log is presenting it to you in full. It’s been edited for readability (chats over Facebook have an amazing way of responding to a thought three IMs back).
Leigh: Tell me something about a few dancers you’d like the audience in New York to know about – I know you like them all.
Adam: I do love them all. They are all special to me, but lets talk about Emily Adams, Beckanne Sisk, Chase O’Connell, Arolyn Williams and Adrian Fry.
Leigh: That’s a great group. I’ve seen them all as well. What do you like about Emily?
Adam: She’s beautiful and stunning! She’s also a choreographer, clothing designer and unique artist.
Leigh: Clothing designer?
Adam: She started an eco-friendly clothing line “State of Bhodi.” She’s tall and her training is from the School of American Ballet, so she embodies the Balanchine aesthetic, but with a subtle classicism.
Leigh: Emily has this lushness not just because of her height, but her quality. She moves more big than fast, but that’s perfect in things like “Emeralds.”
Adam: Emily was unparalleled in “Emeralds” – that was what Barbara Horgan told me!
Leigh: It was so feminine.
Adam: Adrian is a deeply feeling artist who is beginning to be interesting to a choreographer. His first approach to a role can come across as cold and saturnine, like pain just under the surface of his elegant demeanor.
Leigh: I saw that in “Square Dance.” He looked beautiful in the solo.
Adam: I want “Apollo” for Adrian.
Leigh: He’s a natural for Balanchine’s poets.
Adam: Arolyn is a fascinating creature. She’s small and unassuming; she hides in class and just does her business. You don’t think she’s strong until she is required to do things and then she never fails! She’s the unparalleled performer who creates unexpected magic in everything she does.
Leigh: She’s great in Balanchine; I saw her in “Who Cares?” The one in the company who avoids the spotlight – except onstage.
Adam: Yes. Then there’s Chase. He is like butter! A dream, to watch, to work with, to experience.
Leigh: Hello, Linda Richman! I remember Chase as super-clean, which was especially impressive given his height. But things like turns – he has a really clean axis.
Adam: And super-fast petite allegro that you’d see in “Chaconne” plus a deep sense of movement in dances such as “Fox on the Doorstep.” He is tall, lanky, and smooth as silk. But underneath an artist of intense feeling and dimension. Beckanne is an instinctive genius.
Leigh: She got a bum rap in “Breaking Point” – forever “only 19.” But her dancing is natural genius. As I blurted out with my potty mouth after seeing her in “In The Middle,” Jesus Fucking Christ Beckanne. She floored me. She wasn’t dancing the lead; she just convinced you the part she was doing was the lead. So much technique so casually deployed.
Adam: I agree, but there’s more to her than that.
Leigh: Tell me.
Adam: Her Juliet in Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet” was unreal; working with her to produce my “Giselle” was amazing. I expected a lovely first act. Girlish, solid technique and all. Act 2 was where I fell out of my chair. A purity, a sense of the ethereal which never came across as studied but just flowed out of her. A heart.
Leigh: She’s surprised me every time I saw her.
Adam: There is a soul there and an instinctual theatricality you don’t expect. She has a powerhouse technique but is a deep artist. My “Swan Lake” was another one where she made me ask, “Who was that?” Not over acting, sentimental or saccharine, but I was verklempt.
Leigh: The ballet this audience has seen is the duet from “Chaconne.”
Adam: Yep. I’m nervous about presenting it.
Leigh: I wouldn’t be – it will ground the program. You’ve cast three couples; Emily and Adrian, Chase and Beckanne and who’s the third?
Adam: Katherine Lawrence and Rex Tilton. They’re all deeply musical, natural in it. Merrill Ashley said she loved working with them all; thought they were great. She’ll be back for “Jewels” next season!
Leigh: Do you recall any specific corrections she gave? Anything striking?
Adam: Ha! TURN OUT (I bet Beckanne can still hear Merrill calling that out ).
Adam: But that was secondary.
Leigh: I meant more about understanding the work!
Adam: She brought out the openness and expansiveness in their movement. Fearlessness.
Leigh: I know that New York City is a homecoming and always a daunting one. We’ve talked about this before. But what would you tell your friends in New York to watch for; what they might not know about Ballet West and what they’ll see?
Adam: That we are creating a unique way of moving: big and expansive like the mountains where we’re from, but it’s more than that. I have worked to build a unique mix of contemporary fluidity with classical clarity and now, on my 10th anniversary, we have a company of dancers who “go there.” They’re unafraid to take chances and allow the moment to take them. I cry these days when I watch them – I’m so proud.
copyright © 2017 by Leigh Witchel
Cover: Chase O’Connell in “Fox on the Doorstep.” Photo © Beau Pearson.
Ballet West’s season at The Joyce Theater runs October 11 through 15.
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