A Bird’s-Eye View
As both the artistic director and executive director of the Sacramento Ballet, Anthony Krutzkamp works overtime to combine his lifelong love of dance with his ultimate vision to create a troupe known around the world. His first order of business in 2023? An ambitious new take on the most timeless ballet of all, Swan Lake.
You joined the Sacramento Ballet as executive director in 2017, but you began your career as a ballet dancer. How common is it in your field for an executive to start off as a creative?
I actually don’t know how common it is, but it just kind of happened that way. Back in 2013, when I was with the Kansas City Ballet, I and another dancer named Logan Pachciarz were worried about our company members because they didn’t have any work in the summer. I had just graduated with a business degree from Northeastern, and we just dove into creating a dance festival for them to dance in. And that’s when I realized that it’s really easy to do a project, but managing a large company is very hard. You have to know what numbers you’re working with, where things come from, how many royalties there are, how many dancers you can have. I actually went back to my executive and artistic directors and said, “Teach me as many things as possible in the shortest amount of time.”
Then did you know when you were a dancer that directing a ballet company was where you wanted to end up?
Yes, absolutely. It’s funny: When you’re a principal dancer [as Krutzkamp was with both the Cincinnati Ballet and Kansas City Ballet], there are these moments where your whole career has been about you. And you get towards the end of your dancing career and you realize, “I’m so tired of worrying about me.” And I noticed I was helping out the younger dancers and spending my time at lunch coaching them. And that’s the moment I went, “This is what I want to do.”
In 2021, you added on the role of artistic director after your predecessor in that position, Amy Seiwert, was laid off earlier in the pandemic. How do you manage wearing both hats?
It is hard sometimes. If we have a very large production coming up, I want to be with the dancers first off, but I also want to be with the administrative staff. But when you have a really good staff, you can give them the idea and rely on them to accomplish everything in their departments. The same thing for the artistic side. You need really good rehearsal directors who know how to embody your vision, add nuance to the movements and coach the dancers.
Do you want to remain both the artistic and executive director long term, or do you see yourself bringing in someone for one role or the other down the line?
I think as the company grows, there will have to be someone to come in on the executive side. There’s going to be a point where we’re not going to be able to grow fast enough without that.
Regarding the artistic director side, you’ll be premiering your rendition of Swan Lake in February. For those who aren’t very familiar with the work, what makes it special for audiences?
They’re going to go through a roller coaster of emotions over four acts. And some of the most beautiful corps [ensemble] sections in all of classical ballet are in Swan Lake. The sets and costumes for our production are coming from Ballet West [dance company], which is in Salt Lake City. They’re gorgeous. They’re the nice, wide tutus, European-style.
I’m going to add to your question: It’s not just [special for] the audience. During the pandemic, every single dancer did some soul-searching, and every single director did the same. You go back to memories of the past, of how you dreamed of being Odette [the White Swan] and Odile [the Black Swan] or Prince Siegfried. So I could feel the hunger from the dancers. When I did my company meeting and I said, “OK, then after Nutcracker, there’s going to be Swan Lake,” I was worried for a second because the room was completely silent. And I thought, “Oh no, they’re not excited.” But then everybody was like, “Yes!” They were so happy. It was the most beautiful moment. I thought, “OK! You were hungry for it too!” Sometimes I think when you’re an artistic director, if you serve the dancers, you will serve the audience, because they’ll perform better.
Why did you want to stage this ballet in particular now?
I love Swan Lake and we have the right dancers for it. The principal dancers have to embody four acts. It’s a very long show, and you have to be angry at times, you have to be controlled at times, or you have to be partnered in a very soft, supple, loving way. For the artist, it’s about, “OK, how do I keep everything together and keep my acting going while I’m dead tired?” But the audience can never know. And I don’t think the company has performed it since 2015. That’s a pretty big hiatus away from one of the war-horse classical ballets.
What do you think people commonly expect from Swan Lake and what might surprise folks about your version? Anything new or different that people can look forward to?
Well, they expect 24 swans. They expect the White Swan, the Black Swan, and they expect the rock at the end where they break the magic. And this is going to have that. But I think a lot of companies will actually take some of the hardest parts and tweak them. I’m not going to shy away from the hardest steps. Like I said, we have the right dancers, and they can accomplish them. We perform it in February and people were already practicing in September. We’ve been working up to it—those steps and the technique behind them require more muscle, better coordination and plie, which is the use of the bend of the knees and the ankles.
Also, there’s this part of Swan Lake that has always bugged me. So you have this amazing Odette, right? And Rothbart [the villainous sorcerer who casts a spell on Odette] is always there just commanding her. I want to explore the idea of her struggling against that. What if she is strong enough to fight back at it? I have two daughters—a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. I’d love for them to see that.
As you noted, Swan Lake is as classic as it gets. What contemporary works are you also staging this season?
For our ballet after Swan Lake, we’ll have Alejandro Cerrudo’s Extremely Close, which I believe is one of the most beautiful contemporary works that has ever been created. Feathers fall down from the sky. There are three moving walls, really beautiful pas de deux dances for two, and wonderful solos. We’ll also have Penny Saunders’ Ghost Light [in the same program, entitled Visions, running from March 31 through April 2]. It’s fun. During the piece, you don’t really know if the dancers are ghosts or people, but it’s extremely fun. At the same time, they’re two completely different pieces stylistically, so for the dancers, that’s also hard. They’ll need to flip from sliding across the ground and being very supple and soft to jumping and slapping. I’m going to take more of those [kinds of] pieces and put them together, along with other repertoires—you don’t want to forget about neoclassical either. We’re a living museum. That’s why I love dance.
Turning back to your personal history, where are you from originally and what is your dance origin story?
I am from south of Cincinnati in a little place called California, Kentucky. There are no dancers in my family, but I was hyperactive, so from a young age—5 years old—I did tap jazz, and I started ballet at around 9. My mother still has a [writing assignment] from first grade, and it says, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I wrote d-a-n-s-e-r. [Laughs] And when I was 12, she would drive me 45 minutes north to take classes at the Cincinnati Ballet. That’s when I really fell in love with ballet.
At 14, I went off to the Virginia School of the Arts. It was a boarding school for dance. And I spent my time there learning as much as possible. I went off in the summers to the Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet, places like that. For my first job, I spent nine months dancing for the Kansas City Ballet before my mother was diagnosed with cancer, so I flew home to see her and took classes with the Cincinnati Ballet, and they offered me a position. At that time, I thought, “OK, this is nice, I like the feel of this company.” Everybody was so nice to me. I was a whippersnapper—I was 18. And I signed the contract.
Who really influenced you as a dancer or made an impact on you that carries over to the present day?
I had a teacher named Petrus Bosman from 14 to 17. He had been a soloist and principal at the Royal Ballet in London. I had all these very tough teachers, and he led with this grace and very warm correction. Rather than saying, “You did that wrong,” he’d say, “Anthony, if you want to look like a principal, just do this.” That’s it. Then afterwards he would say, “Lovely, let’s move on.” It was the first time I truly believed in myself.
And [Mikhail] Baryshnikov. We only met once, but I think I warped every single VHS tape I had of Baryshnikov—Baryshnikov: Live at Wolf Trap, the Don Quixote video. I slow-motioned his steps to try to accomplish them.
Wait—you met Baryshnikov? What was that like for you?
Once, at [the New York City dance school] Steps on Broadway. I was awestruck. I didn’t know what to say. I said, “N-n-n-nice to meet you.” [Laughs] I spent the whole class not thinking about myself. I was just watching him the whole time. The ability to move your leg without your hips is very hard to accomplish—the simplicity of it. I was probably 20 at the time, and I was watching him and thinking, “Oh, this is what the teachers have been saying. I see it now!” It was unbelievable.
Your wife, Jill, is a former dancer as well. She’s also the Sacramento Ballet’s second company director. How do you navigate working together as a couple?
We have different directives. My job is to create the best show possible. Her job is to create the next generation of dancers [with the troupe’s trainee program]. Those focal points are very different. We don’t see each other as much at work as you would think. She has a whole separate group of 20 dancers that she’s directing.
You need to know when you’re a director, and when you are a husband and father. Those are two separate things. I work long hours because I love it. But when I’m home, I’m a papa. And I’m a papa until we read that last book and they’re asleep. Then I can hang it up, and Jill and I become normal humans again. The work-life balance is very important. Because if you lose one, you’re not good at either.
What are your artistic ambitions for the Sacramento Ballet down the line?
Everybody should have a chance at Romeo and Juliet—every aspiring dancer would love to be Romeo or Juliet. They’re marquee roles. We should do that in the future. Also, [longtime San Francisco Ballet choreographer] Val Caniparoli has a Jekyll & Hyde that’s phenomenal. It gives you the chills, and putting that on around Halloween [someday] would be good. There are really interesting things out there that I think we can accomplish.
Dancer-wise, I want our artists to be stars. I want people to come to the shows for them, not just the pieces we’re doing. Technique-wise, we’re on our way. I would never be afraid to program [something] because they’re going to be able to do it, and they’re going to look good together. I want us to tour. I want us to get out there in the world. I want people to write reviews about the Sacramento Ballet in other cities so that people know how good we are here. That’s one of my big things. I want us to get out there in the world.
When I was younger, there used to be a ballet company in Indianapolis called Ballet Internationale. And I remember watching their show and thinking, “Wow, they have five exceptional dancers. What a secret this is.” We don’t need to be a secret. I want people everywhere to know.
Swan Lake will run Feb. 17-19 at the SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center. For tickets and more info, visit sacballet.org.
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