In the middle of hot Salt Lake City summers, students from all over the world come to train with the University of Utah School of Dance Ballet Program and various guest artists during a four-week period. In an interview, Maggie Tesch, the director of the summer intensive and associate professor at the U, described the program as a “grown-up intensive.” This phrase may seem odd, but Tesch explained that dancers are being asked to approach dancing with a more advanced, or “grown-up,” way of thinking.
“[Students] are not just dancers being [told] how to do things, but learning how to do things,” she said.
The program works to shape them into artists. Dancers are challenged to be actively engaged in all forms of the creative ballet process while sticking to a strict technical regiment.
The intensive is available for ages 15 and up at intermediate, advanced and pre-professional levels. Workshops include ballet, pointe and men’s classes in the morning followed by classical repertory, choreography and a variety of other dance styles in the afternoon. Tesch explained that learning ballet techniques as well as repertory ensure that dancers expand past a particular style. The ballet program works to create a diverse variety of ballet technique in each student, ultimately creating what Tesch calls “a universal artist.”
With all of the intensives currently offered by various companies and universities, it is easy to just add the U’s to the long list of summer dance opportunities. At many intensives, however, Tesch said students are often told, “We are gonna do this and do that,” whereas the U’s program works to train students “to take this [information], think, and come back to me with something.” What could have been another four-week session of classroom orders becomes an interactive, collaborative and creative process.
Several guest artists, artistic directors and other collaborators are brought in to assist the university faculty in maintaining the idea of a “universal artist.” The various artists and faculty members work to sustain high-quality classes and rehearsals. Students train with all of these artists and work in a professional training environment, and this combination gives ballet dancers the chance to get their names out in the ballet world to begin building their reputations as pre-professional dancers.
Throughout all the hours of training, participating ballet dancers need to take a break from long days inside the studios, so the program shares the wonders of Salt Lake City with visiting students. Dancers tour the city, enjoy hiking outdoors and learn about the benefits of living on the U’s campus. These adventures not only help to give the dancers some fresh air and a well-deserved rest for their bodies and minds, but also give the U a chance to encourage ballet dancers to further their dance training at the school.
Tesch explained that the goal of this intensive is to “recruit for the program” along with creating quality ballet training for young artists. Many ballet dancers think joining a company right out of high school is the only route, but Tesch believes it is valuable to obtain a college education while studying at the School of Dance. The intensive can be thought of as just a small-scale replica of what a dance education at the U is like.