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Kåge, Artistic Director, Ballet West
Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
February, 14 2003
-- Salt Lake City
What a great Valentine’s Day present – to see a performance of Ballet
West in their magnificent production of "Sleeping Beauty" and
to have had also the opportunity to chat with the Artistic Director of
the Company. We spoke with Mr. Kåge in his second-floor office, in Salt
Lake City ’s restored Capitol Theatre (built in 1913 as SLC’s second Orpheum)
complex, above the press of the crowded foyer during the intermissions
between acts. between acts.
Mr. Kåge, who was appointed artistic
director of Ballet West in 1997, leads the Company during its 40th anniversary
season. Throughout his extensive association with ballet as dancer, choreographer
and director, Mr. Kåge has continued the company’s tradition of expanding
ballet’s reach toward new audiences. Ballet West originated in Salt Lake
City in 1963 as the Utah Civic Ballet. Utah 's "First Lady of the
Arts," Glenn Walker Wallace, was the company's founder and first
president. Willam F. Christensen, creator of the company and its first
artistic director, is also noted for establishing, with his brothers Lew
and Harold, the oldest ballet company in the Western United States , the
San Francisco Ballet, in 1937. Christensen also is heralded for establishing
the first ballet department in an American university, the University
of Utah, in 1951 and for being the first American to choreograph full-length
versions of “The Nutcracker,” “Copplia” and “Cinderella.”
Mr. Kåge has established significant
relationships with many international masters of the art form, including
Hans van Manen, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, and Glen Tetley. As a result,
Ballet West has added to its repertoire a wide range of American and world
premieres including “Polish Pieces” and “In and Out” by van Manen, “Bach
Moves” by Ted Brandsen, “Artifact II” by William Forsythe and Kage's own
award-winning staging of “Swan Lake.”
What follows is an edited transcription of our talk.]
How would you compare Ballet West as it is now, as opposed to
how it was when you first assumed leadership? How has it grown, what kind
of new ballets have you introduced into the repertory, and what have your
brought back (such as Balanchine)?
I felt it was important to not make too many changes, particularly at
the start of my tenure, and so have taken a conservative approach. For
example, I kept the Company roster the same during that first year. Now,
as in the natural course of things, there are only a handful of the same
dancers left after 7 years. Retirements, people moving on...
Yes, as you know, this Company has had a long history of Balanchine ballets
in its repertory, so it’s nice to bring back or introduce them to "Violin
Concerto" or "Four Temperaments" – and have continued showing
"Theme and Variations" and "Concerto Barocco." We’ve
also brought in ballets by Hans van Manen, William Forsythe; Val Caniparoli,
and Christopher Bruce.
What are some of your long-term artistic goals for the Company?
We want to freshen the repertory, so I hope to commission new works, bringing
in the best that we can afford – the cutting edge on top of the trade.
We are lucky to have and, as we hire in the future, will to continue to
look for dancers who can handle this variety of mixed repertory. Glen
Tetley’s "Rite of Spring" that we’re doing in April is a big
difference from "Sleeping Beauty"! I believe our loyal audiences
are starting to enjoy the mixed repertory programs, in addition to the
What are some of the challenges?
Everyone, regardless of size, has similar problems: Funding! This Company
has been built carefully over 40 years, and it’s also very fragile in
that you can lose it very quickly, if not careful artistically and financially.
I believe it’s important to maintain artistic standards and resist doing
Peter Pan and Dracula ballets, as they don’t really solve long-term finances
nor do they help build the Company.
Describe some of your day-to-day activities. Do you give Company
Class? How involved are you with rehearsals?
Oh, I love to be on the rehearsal floor. I try to teach Company Class
at least once a week. I think it’s important for the Artistic Director
to articulate standards, defining a “look” for example. Like my colleagues,
I’m very torn because of administrative pressures.
Many in leadership roles find themselves increasingly doing more
in the way of fundraising and being publicly "visible." Have
you found that to be true for yourself as well here in Salt Lake ?
Yes. I’m learning to do more of that here and would like to do more, time
permitting. In Europe , it’s not done as much due to the high level of
State support for the arts; the money is just there. There are the most
wonderful people here in this community and one of the benefits of needing
to be more visible is being able to keep better in touch with the community
that supports us. I also wanted to let you know that Kent (Stowell) and
Francia (Russell) have been so supportive and great friends.
Is there any thing in particular you would like us to say about
Absolutely! Ballet West is in a renaissance. I hope to get the Company
out more and we need to tour. I’m thrilled that we are going to be at
the Edinburgh Festival this coming Summer! We are taking, at the sponsor’s
request, an all Tudor program. "Leaves are Fading," "Lilac
Garden," and "Offenbach in the Underworld." It’s
very exciting to be seen by new audiences and ballet fans world-wide.
Touring gets the Company together and it’s great for morale.
As we have a little extra time, please tell us about your background.
How did you start in ballet and eventually land in Salt Lake City?
My mother was briefly a dancer who worked with Birgit Cullberg. When I
was little, I used to dance around a lot in the living room to the radio.
Mother made a deal with me that I try a year of ballet lessons. These
I started when I was about 8. I auditioned for and got into the Royal
Swedish Ballet when I was 9. I got to carry lots of pillows and capes!
(Children are used frequently in the operas and ballets.) This is how
I got interested in opera. My father was a pop singer and my grandfather
an actor, so you can imagine that I got a lot of home support, which was
One of my big idols, Erik Bruhn, took over the Royal Swedish Ballet and
was given some great breaks. I got to dance in Kenneth MacMillan’s "Romeo
and Juliet" with Georgina Parkinson when I was only 19. Mr. Bruhn
later invited me to ABT, where I danced for four years. This was a great
time at ABT, with a lot of expectations and pressures, with a great generation
of people. Makarova and Misha where there as well as the “greats” still
I then spent a year in Stuttgart under Glen Tetley and then 10 years at
Zurich Ballet during the years that Patricia Neary was director. I got
to work with Mr. Balanchine there as he’d come over for vacation and would
stop by to rehearse and coach us in his ballets. Nureyev was a big influence
too, while I was at London Festival Ballet. I admired his determination
to do things “right” -- he didn’t cut corners and was a lesson in demonstrating
the need to push ourselves out of the comfort zone.
I’m very happy that I got to meet with Ballet West’s Founding Director,
Willam Christensen, a couple of times before he passed. He was an amazing
gentleman. I once joked with him that it was great to meet the person
we get to “blame” for all of these Nutcrackers! [Note: Mr. Christensen
choreographed the first full-length Nutcracker for San Francisco Ballet
I’ve been most fortunate to have been around some very influential and
exciting people and feel that I was part of something special – a feeling
that I’m trying to pass along here in Salt Lake City and with Ballet West.
Edited by Holly Messitt
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