Catching Up With Ballet West’s Oliver Oguma

by Michael Mahany | 10/13/2017 6:58 PM

Oliver Oguma (lower) Arolyn Williams (middle) and Chase O’Connell (above) in the World Premiere Preview of Nicolo Fonte’s Fox On The Doorstep. Photo Credit: ZealNYC


Ballet West’s triumphant return to the Empire State after their acclaimed tour in 2015 was finally realized on Wednesday evening. The Joyce Theatre, a beautiful dance theatre located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, was alive with the excitement and energy of dancers and dance fans alike for the ballet company’s 2017 New York debut. The scheduled pieces included two New York City premieres Dances For Lou and Fox On The Door Step, a tip of the cap to New York City Ballet with one of Balanchine’s classic Pas de Deuxs— Chaconne, Joffrey’s Ruth: Ricordi Per Due, and the world premiere preview of Africa Guzman’s Sweet And Bitter.


Ballet West, a gem of United States ballet, is a world renowned company based in the high elevation and desert surroundings of Salt Lake City, Utah. Since it’s founding in 1963 under William Christensen— who also founded San Francisco Ballet— Ballet West has grown a reputation of recreating both stunning classics and building innovative contemporary new works.


Under the artistic direction of Adam Sklute since 2007, Ballet West’s focus has been on expanding its, “outlook, repertoire, and visibility with exciting company premieres, increased touring, heightened public exposure, and greater focus on the Ballet West Academy.” Sklute, who was one of the last two dancers selected by Robert Joffrey to join the main company of Joffrey Ballet, was artistic director and a featured member of the television show when Ballet West was the subject of the CW docu-drama series, Breaking Pointe.


After the performance last Thursday night, Dance Network was able to catch up with Corps dancer Oliver Oguma. Oliver, who started dancing with Ballet West II in 2014, and joined the Corps in 2015, is prominently featured in the evening’s programme. We talked with Oguma about what it’s like to be back dancing in his hometown of New York City, the differences in city dancing versus desert dancing, and what it is he ultimately wants out of his career.


Oliver Oguma. Photo Credit: Ballet West


DN: You're originally from New York City, what's it like to be back performing in your home town?

Oliver: This place really has a very special place in my heart and it really does mean a lot to be back— and to be here to perform just makes it even better. I feel like I so lucky that I can call New York City my home— but that being said, when you come to dance in New York you have to dance really well, because the people here really know what they’re talking about.


(Laughing) It’s also sort of strange to be back, because every time I’ve been back home over the past four years it was on vacation time, so I am constantly fighting the urge to not just completely relax and sleep all the time!


DN: Speaking of which, what's it like for a New York City kid to be living and dancing out in the desert?


Oliver: It’s a pretty big change, life in salt lake city is much calmer, you are surrounded by mountains, and everyone drives everywhere. There are a lot fewer options of things to do, compared to life in New York City— which forces me to hyper focus on ballet… which I think is important and, actually, quite nice… but, I’m still a city kid at heart, and I do miss the chaos of New York City sometimes.


Oliver Oguma. Photo Credit: Olivia Oguma Reels


MORE: Check out Oliver Oguma’s dance reel here


DN: You’ve studied and performed in tons of different places-- School of American Ballet, ABT, The Rock, San Francisco Ballet-- and are now you're in the the Corps with Ballet West, do you have a favorite place you've danced?


Oliver: Oh, I don’t know… I don’t think I can say any specific place… I danced in some pretty amazing theaters in London and Russia, but when it comes to a specific place? All of them?!  All the places I’ve studied and danced have all been amazing for different reasons. The amount of knowledge and help I received from each place has helped me grow into the person and dancer I am today, and I owe each teacher that spent extra time with me after class or after rehearsal, everything… and my mom, too.


DN: Right, your mom danced with American Ballet Theatre! Ballet is in the blood, literally, for you. So, with this tour through the Joyce, you’re performing in Nicolo Fonte’s powerful and moving Fox on the Doorstep, and Val Caniparoli’s majestic and dynamic Dances for Lou. How has it been working and being featured on such different works?


Oliver: Any chance a dancer has to work when a role being created specifically for that dancer— it is very, very special thing. One thing that I am kind of hooked on, is the collaboration aspect of the work with the choreographer. Being a part of that process really makes it feel different, and tailored to you


DN: You’re extremely talented, you're tough-- I heard you’re currently dancing with two ribs out!?— with all that you've got going, what do you ultimately want out of your career as a dancer? When you look back at the end, what is it that you'll want to have accomplished?


Oliver: This is an easy one and very cheesy. When I look back at my career, I want to be able to know that I was able to change someone’s day with dance, or someone was able to leave their reality for an hour because they came to watch dance. Also, I don’t want to have any regrets about the choices I made or how hard I could have worked, because working hard is very simple… you just have to work hard! It’s painful, but its the only way to improve. Lastly, I just want to be happy, and to be able to pass on to the next generation of dancers, the knowledge I feel so privileged to have been given to me by my teachers.


Ballet West performs at the Joyce Theatre in New York City through October 14th. For more information and how to find tickets visit