Principal Dancer For Ballet West Retiring After 21 Years
Feb 24, 2019, 10:13 PM | Updated: 10:48 pm
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Ballet West’s production of ‘ Swan Lake’ closed Saturday night with a bittersweet curtain call.
Principal Dancer, Christopher Ruud, performed his final leading role and after 21 years is retiring.
During the curtain call, he was surrounded by current and former members of the company, all offering him thanks, best wishes and roses.
Precision and passion, Ruud epitomizes the artistry and the athleticism of classical dance.
“In its purest sense, dance is just a release of that, that great human emotion that we all collect inside and have to let out. For me, dance is communication.”
To say that this is second nature to him is not an exaggeration, dance fills his earliest memories.
Ruud literally grew up on stage. Both of his parents danced with Ballet West. In fact, he said we would not have been telling his story if his father hadn’t seen a school performance in the early 1960’s.
“My father, as a high school student in Afton, Wyoming saw Ballet West perform and fell in love with dance, with ballet, and made his way to Utah, found Mr. C, found the University of Utah dance program and the rest is history.”
The “Mr. C” his father trained with was the famed Willem Christensen, the founder of Ballet West.
Rudd is the last Ballet West dancer he trained. Trained in Vaudeville, as well as ballet, Mr. C. believed in the entertainment side of dance.
“If you don’t have anything in your mind, in your heart, when you’re performing, then what are you saying? It’s just steps at that point. I learned that from Mr. C, Mr. C taught that to my folks.”
And Ruud is also the last Ballet West dancer to have worked with every artistic director in the company’s history.
There is a very special connection with the man in charge now, Adam Sklute. They both describe it as almost a father/son relationship.
“I’ve always felt very paternal to him. I’ve always felt like I wanted to help guide his, his career and his future. I saw right away a great artist, a great dancer, and one of the best partners in classical ballet terms that I’d ever worked with.”
No one understands that relationship better, guides a ballerina more smoothly, he says than Ruud.
We watched as Ruud rehearsed Prince Siegfried, one of his favorite roles, in one of his favorite ballets.
“Swan Lake is my favorite Tchaikovsky score. It’s my favorite classical ballet score. It is just moving and soulful. And it tells the story perfectly.”
He also possesses the gift to mentor younger dancers. Jenna Rae Herrara, now a Ballet West soloist, remembers Ruud’s kindness during a time of indecision for her.
She had not been offered a full-time contract but he called and advised her to accept a part-time offer with grace.
“Not that he knew exactly what was going to happen with my career, but he just saw that I needed to hold on a little bit longer and he was right. And I don’t think I would be standing here if I had not had that reassurance from him.”
She says she has watched him help and advice other dancers constantly. Once when her parents were visiting from out of town, Ruud offered her his place at the barre during class so that they could watch their daughter from a better angle.
“I owe a lot to Chris and he’s been an incredible mentor, always in my back corner, always there to offer words of wisdom, also encouragement. He is a light to this company and we are going to miss him so much.”
But Ruud says the demands of dance take a toll on the body, two decades and four surgeries later, it is time to stop.
“You can use certain aspects of your performance on stage to make up for that but I can’t jump as high, I can’t last as long. I don’t have the same stamina. I’ll be 42 in April and it’s this is really hard battle.”
He will teach, he says, and he hopes to direct and choreograph. As he looks back over his career, performing every major role – he can remember each ballet and each partner.
“…this high speed, sort of clip reel of special tiny interactions with other dancers, these moments where we meet eyes on stage… What’s my favorite part of this? It’s the people, it’s the people I got to dance with. And the crew that I got to relate to backstage that makes us look so amazing on stage. And the administrative staff. That, and the other thing, the marketing and the PR and development and the accounting and the Academy, the teachers and the students that I get to teach once in a while, there are these tiny pupil special moments that you get to have all the time. And in the end, those have sort of fused into this giant glowing… I can put those all together into one feeling about what it’s been like to do this and that it just, it all comes together into this big sort of idea of just love.”
More than one generation of dancers has enjoyed the artistry and companionship of Ruud, he now hopes to influence generations to come.