First Person Singular

Septime Webre - Artistic director, the Washington Ballet

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I'm the seventh son, thus my name "Septime." I'm the seventh of nine children, and there were four of us who were near the bottom. We were very close in age, and we were extremely energetic. We lived in the Bahamas until I was 12, and we would do these weekend-long sand-castle-building projects. I remember one scale model of Versailles, and I was in charge of both the Trianon and the Orangery, and I was probably 8. We were always into something sort of theatrical.

Early on, I was putting on plays, theatricals, with my family, my siblings, and they were very highly produced, and my first play I wrote when I was about 10. It was called "The Case of the Recurring Ennui." And my sister was the femme fatale lead character. She was wearing a strapless fishtail gown that we made out of a canopy from her bed and safety pins. She was lying on a chaise made out of suitcases and a red crushed-velvet bedspread. Her first line was, "Oh, I've never been so ennui in all my life!" It was quite successful, and so I found myself interested and gravitated to theatrical, to directorial situations where I was sort of the creative artist and the interpretive artist, not just the contributing artist.

[That first play] is emblematic not because of its title but because of maybe my impulse to connect with an audience. There's a certain cheekiness of the red crushed-velvet chaise. You know, I just assumed that the audience would understand that these boxes and suitcases with red crushed velvet were actually Napoleonic, a fainting couch from the Directoire period or something like that. And so, likewise, I think it's more like a spirit of play in putting together an experience for an audience and for a certain expression of play. [Play] is important for me, and it's important for the Washington Ballet, which has a certain friskiness about it. I'm not looking for anyone merely to fit into a corps, but also to be able to take the limelight. And that takes a depth, a special factor X. I've probably never experienced ennui myself because I'm curious and I'm excited about the world around me. I like life to be vibrant. I like when there's energy across the footlights.

Interview by Patricia Murret

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