As Ballet West dancers are in preparation for this coming season, the 2021 – 2022 season has already left its mark in Ballet West’s history. September 2020 cover model, Katlyn Addison will enter the Ballet West stage as the first non – Asian principal women in the companies history. Get to know Katlyn from our 2020 profile! This profile was photographed by Joshua Whitehead, current demi-soloist for Ballet West.
Joined Ballet West 2011
Katlyn is poised and reflective, with a focused determination and commitment to her career. I still remember one of my first conversations with Katlyn sitting around the rosin box in the middle of a performance. She had just joined Ballet West from Houston Ballet, and already expressed her goal of rising through the ranks at Ballet West. I have always been impressed by Katlyn’s confidence. This confidence and determination, as well as hard work and perseverance has served her well during her time at Ballet West.
Katlyn has made history as the third black ballerina in history to play the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and was named one of “26 Black Female Choreographers and Dancers You Should Know” by Huffington Post. In fall 2019, Katlyn performed numerous leading roles with The Scottish National Ballet as a guest artist and received a multitude of positive reviews. Recently, she was one of many local artists to create a Black Lives Matter mural in Salt Lake City.
She is currently a first soloist at Ballet West, and has been asked to serve on the board of a new local non-profit organization here in Salt Lake City. She continues to tackle challenges head on whether they be on stage, teaching the next generation of dancers, or choreographing new works.
Adam Sklute, Ballet West’s Artistic Director, on Katlyn Addison
I actually worked for years to get Katlyn to Ballet West. I first saw her over a decade ago when she was just a young teenager competing at YAGP in order to get a work visa to work in the US. It was in Dallas, Texas and I offered her BWII on the spot. She was already going to be an apprentice at Houston Ballet. I followed her career and stayed in touch for years and when she was ready to come to Ballet West I welcomed her into the company with open arms. Katlyn is a beautiful, elegant, statuesque woman. She has a strong technique, clear line, and a huge jump. She projects a natural glamour and strength, combined with a regal femininity that made it clear to me that she was perfect for Ballet West.
Kat, as she becomes more confident, has emerged more and more as a clear leader in the organization. She was always a beautiful dancer with all the qualities I mentioned before but just this past year she blossomed and is not afraid to bare her soul on stage. She also has begun to own her mantle as a leading dancer with a sense of calm authority which I look for in my leading dancers. I was sorry that we had to cut this season short as she is on the verge of a huge leap. I can’t wait to get back to work with her and see her stage again.
Favorite Roles Katlyn has performed with Ballet West
Adam: “Russian” in Serenade, “The Woman” in The Green Table, “Myrthe” in Giselle.
Did you know from a young age you wanted to pursue ballet professionally?
When I was younger, my mother used to take my sister and I to annual Christmas performances of the Nutcracker at the National Ballet of Canada. During the Nutcracker performance apparently, I leaned over towards my mom and said, “I want to be that ballerina one day,” pointing to the Sugar Plum Fairy on stage. As cheesy as this story sounds, that’s what triggered me wanting to pursue ballet. Being a ballerina is hard work, and continuous training can provide you with the growth you need to be successful. I am driven by the daily challenges. Daily in classical ballet, I am constantly thinking about what I can improve. If it’s not my technique, it’s my artistry; if it’s not my artistry or technique, it’s the partnership of working with other dancers. There must be constant growth, it is not only external for us, but also the mental balance and positive motivation that has driven me this far into pursuing classical ballet as a profession.
Who were some of the ballerinas you idolized growing up?
I never idolized a ballerina. I did really love watching Karen Kain growing up, and Jaquel Andrews in my first few years dancing with Houston Ballet. What inspired me to join Houston Ballet was being able to finally see someone who looked like me, Lauren Andersonn, the first African American Principal ballerina who I was able to see perform. She has coached me, and still to this day, mentors me along this classical ballet journey of a career. She wasn’t an idol personally to me, but she definitely has inspired me in indescribable ways to continue to believe in my worth as a classical ballerina, and has helped me focus to keep pushing to become my best despite the odds as a woman of color in a classical ballet world.
How long have you been at Ballet West and where else have you danced? How has your professional experience been at the different companies?
I danced at Houston Ballet in the Corps de Ballet. Stanton Welch, the Artistic Director at Houston Ballet, hired me as a younger inexperienced dancer. Opportunities were limited to grow and build or develop my skill set. I was able to learn through viewing other dancers and built confidence for later opportunities. I would say I’ve had two different types of professional experiences: one was survival, and other artistry development. This is my 9th year working with Adam Sluke, Artistic Director of Ballet West. I am presently a First Soloist who believes actions speak louder than words, casting is what is needed for a ballerina to grow and develop. The opportunities I have had in my varied roles challenged my talent and developed my artistry. I have been selected for many roles to advance my career and develop my skills as a classical ballerina. But I am not just given these roles, I have to be disciplined, work hard, practice with individuals, groups and by myself to ensure I take advantage of all opportunities given. Every year or two since my arrival at Ballet West I have been promoted throughout the rankings in the company. I continue to focus on my goal of becoming a Principal ballerina and aim to display the artistry of every role and ballet I dance. My experiences with Houston Ballet and Ballet West have impacted and influenced my career and advancement in the ballet world.
How has Adam supported you in your career?
Adam has been very supportive in my career over the years. Since joining the company in 2011, Adam has promoted me in Ballet West artistic ranking every other year since 2013. Adam has cast me in roles that influence the community’s perceptions of Black Ballerinas. He supports, encourages, and provides the training I have needed to advance my career. His actions speak louder than words by promoting a woman of color in the classical ballet world, as it is not the norm. He has shown that the artistry of ballet can be performed by individuals regardless of their color.
Can you tell us about your experiences as a choreographer and what your choreographic process is like?
My experience as a choreographer has been tough at times, but it has been extremely rewarding to watch my peers perform something that has been manifesting within me over years and then become a full creation. At Ballet West I’ve been able to create two premiering ballets, The Hunt in 2017 and Hidden Voices in 2019. In 2019, I choreographed for the Utah Artist Festival. Two new pieces in 2015 and 2017 were done for ArtEmotion. In 2017, I created a piece for Ava Ballet Theater in Nevada. I hope to keep creating and allowing my choreographic voice to be heard through other opportunities. At this time, I do have something in the works but, unable to make it public. I am excited for the future to create a premiere on a beautiful group of local artists.
As I strive for uniqueness, my choreographic vision is constantly developing. I usually come into a creation with little to no expectations, allowing the music and dancers to lead each movement naturally from step to step. The spiritual part of dancing plays a huge role in my creative works. If I don’t feel something internally, I don’t create!
How would you like to see the ballet world change in terms of diversity, inclusion, and equity?
To change the ballet world would involve individuals with power and privilege to have anti-black racism training and address their bias so that young dancers are viewed with an anti-racist lens. Simply speaking, equity just means fair. The “look” of a ballerina in the ballet world can change if we allow different ethnicities to flourish. Classic Ballet is a very special, unique, privileged, specific style of dance. I love this art form because it’s so challenging and demanding. I think the people in power and authority in ballet schools, academies, and classical ballet companies need to examine why they’re primarily comprised of one race and ethnicity!
What forms of racism have you faced on your journey?
I have encountered many examples of systemic racism, individual racism, microaggressions, and racist comments on my journey. I would also ask everyone to look at the companies in the US. How many classical ballet companies have black Principal dancers, Artistic Directors, or even more than two black ballerinas in their company? It’s definitely something to look at and is not often addressed.
What’s your favorite movie?
My favourite movie is Love & Basketball.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy spending my free time sharing meals with friends, picnicking, and hanging out with my family and friends. I love cooking, hiking, horseback riding, trying new restaurants, and traveling the world! As cheesy as this sounds, being out in nature is truly my happy place and a place where my spirit feels free, restful, and rejuvenated.
What is the most courageous thing you have done in your life?
Hmmm, the most courageous thing I’ve ever done was cliff diving in Saint Lucia with some local individuals hours after meeting them…I can’t even tell you where they took my sister and I, but I do know it was gorgeous and we jumped off a crazy cliff into the Ocean!
Can you tell us about your time guesting with Scottish National Ballet? What did you get to perform and what was it like dancing for a company overseas?
Dancing overseas was such a unique experience, and created a hunger to continue sharing my artistry and movement all over the world! While with the Scottish National Ballet, in Glasgow, Scotland, I was able to perform two different world premier ballets. I danced the role of Titubia, in The Crucible, choreographed by Helen Pickett, and in Snow Queen choreographed by Christopher Hampson, Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet, I danced the leading role of the Snow Queen. Both were two totally different ballets. The Crucible, is based on Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, written in 1953. The role I danced technically wasn’t challenging, but the character of Tituba was very heavy, with many layers of artistry. The classical storybook ballet the Snow Queen, is a full length ballet, and the lead role is very layered and challenging to dance throughout two different acts. I have always heard that Europeans have a great appreciation for the arts and especially ballet. The audience certainly showed delight in my performances. It was a wonderful life experience sharing my artistry in another part of the world and receiving a lot of positive responses to my dancing.
What is your dream role or ballet to dance?
Honestly, I don’t have a particular dream role I’d like to do. I would just love to perform the leading role of a story book ballet, for example, Odette (white swan) in Swan Lake or Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, etc. That would be a dream come true.
What are some of your most memorable roles or performances?
When I think back on some memorable performances or dance roles I’ve dreamt of performing, I will never forget dancing, “Woman #4” in William Forsythe’s, In The Middle Somewhat Elevated. For this role I danced two solos and a pas de deux. It is a very meaty woman’s role to be featured in and so fun to dance! It was our last performance of the season and Ballet West was on tour in Dallas. It was 2015, and I was dancing the pas with my partner, Adrian Fry. It was my first principal role to perform on tour. If I was to describe the internal feeling I had while performing, I would say we just connected. Everything from the body movement, to the connection with my partner, every touch, glance, our steps just felt right. I remember feeling stretched to the limits and dancing so hard that both of our costumes were soaking wet with sweat. It just felt so exciting! When I think about these memories in my career, I think how lucky we are as dancers to have space on stage to be able to freely express ourselves in movement. It’s a very physical inner body experience. These memories remind me how much I love to dance and how grateful I am.
Another amazing memory was dancing Snow Queen in The Nutcracker for Ballet West in 2018. Rex Tilton was my partner, and four days before the performances Rex became a new father to his handsome son, Ajax. It’s crazy to think he got on stage to perform as an exhausted new father! I was so excited he wanted to come back and perform with me and was so excited to perform this dream role. This whole performance felt like an out of body experience. I just remember the fog, lights, and music then Rex lifting me out onto the stage at the beginning of the snow queen pas music. My heart felt like it skipped a beat, and it was as if I went into an imaginary land. As silly as this sounds, I can’t remember what I danced and even thought I blanked out once or twice while dancing, but I had so much joy in my heart during this particular performance. I felt like a queen and with the help of Rex, I felt like a queen the entire show! There are so many special moments so far in my career. I get a little emotional thinking about it. I can’t wait until I dance again!
What advice would you give to young dancers?
Be kind to yourself and believe in you. We all have bad performances, but there’s always another opportunity to improve. Most of all, be true to your moral compass and to be present in each moment in life, not just ballet. Learn to love yourself. There will always be challenges worth exploring for the rest of your life.
What haven’t I asked you that I should have? Or what else would you like to share with our readers?
What else I would love to share with the readers is that being different and unique is a blessing and gift. No one is like you, or can ever be like you. Once you find that inner love for yourself, life will become easier!