The Year of the Woman will reach the Kennedy Center next season, when the 2018-2019 dance offerings will include four companies led by women, numerous contemporary works created by women and — at last — a ballet made by a woman for New York City Ballet.
These aren’t the only developments that make the upcoming season, which the center announces Thursday, look remarkably up to date. The ballet series steps solidly into the 21st century with a slew of new works and area premieres. In October, for example, the San Francisco Ballet will deliver two repertory programs of works that will be unveiled at its Unbound festival next month, featuring a dozen world premieres by Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and other notables.
In January, American Ballet Theatre brings a new ballet by Alexei Ratmansky: “Harlequinade,” his interpretation of a lost comic work by the classical master Marius Petipa, with music by Riccardo Drigo. It premieres in New York in June.
New York City Ballet can be counted on for contemporary works, but there are some new twists in its April 2019 engagement. With the departure of former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, the interim leadership team — Peck, Jonathan Stafford, Rebecca Krohn and Craig Hall — seems to be tweaking the formula. For one thing, the company will perform its first work by a female choreographer at the Kennedy Center: “Composer’s Holiday” by Gianna Reisen, who was just 18 and fresh out of the School of American Ballet when she created it last year.
“It’s interesting to see this new group, the four artistic directors, changing things up and putting offerings on the table we haven’t seen from New York City Ballet before,” said Meg Booth, the center’s director of dance programming. In addition to performing works from the spring Jerome Robbins festival, the company will dance Balanchine’s “Kammermusik No. 2,” with music by Paul Hindemith — a work that’s not widely seen, and the company doesn’t usually tour it. But while Peck was curating the center’s Ballet Across America series last year (that series returns next season), he mentioned that he wished “Kammermusik” was better known. The programmers reminded him of that when they revisited the schedule in recent weeks, and Peck agreed to bring it.
Other than “The Nutcracker” — Ballet West’s charmingly vintage production, last seen here in 2014 — there’s only one full-length ballet drawn from the classical canon next season: the pirate tale “Le Corsaire,” which Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet will perform in April 2019.
“We don’t want to exhaust audiences with the same titles,” Booth said. “There are only a certain number of times you can present ‘Giselle’ and ‘Don Quixote’ to your audience. Because we had so many this season, yes, we are intentionally lighter next season.” This won’t become a trend, she said. The big ballets will be back in years to come.
Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company returns with Bourne’s reimagined “Cinderella,” set in the London blitz of World War II. If you’ve found the recorded music for his productions loud in the past, grab your earplugs — the Prokofiev score is augmented with exploding shells and gunfire.
Booth said the center heard some complaints about the sound booming from the Opera House’s speakers in the fall, during Bourne’s stage version of “The Red Shoes,” but the choreographer “wants certain moments to rattle your heart and your rib cage, so after understanding that, we of course let the artist lead.”
The Kennedy Center has lost a female-led company — the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which folded this season — but it’s gaining appearances by Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker, the Brazilian powerhouse contemporary company, and the Chicago-based Lucky Plush, led by Julia Rhoads. Lucky Plush makes its Kennedy Center debut with “Rooming House,” a dance-theater piece that mixes storytelling with a psychological whodunit.
Colker’s company performs “Dog Without Feathers,” inspired by a Brazilian poem of the same name, and focusing on the mud-dwelling people of Brazil’s Capibaribe River region.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company also presents a work springing from the written word: “The Analogy Trilogy” explores themes of marginalization and migration, drawing from German writer W.G. Sebald’s acclaimed book “The Emigrants.”
The Asian continent makes a strong showing next season. The National Ballet of China performs “Raise the Red Lantern,” with a live orchestra, an epic-size ballet about a woman sold into a polygamous marriage, based on Zhang Yimou’s film of the same name. Two esteemed companies return from the center’s 2011 Maximum India festival: Ragamala Dance and Malavika Sarukkai. Japanese and Cambodian artists collaborate in “Cross Transit,” choreographed by Japan’s Akiko Kitamura, making her Kennedy Center debut with a piece inspired by Cambodian photographer Kim Hak’s depictions of abandoned homes.
The Ballet Across America series caps the season in May and June 2019 with companies from across the country performing on shared programs. There’s no word yet on which troupes are participating. Last year, ballerina Misty Copeland and Peck curated the offerings, choosing the groups as well as the works. That model won’t be repeated.
“We decided not to move forward with guest curators,” Booth said. “But we’re working on a very special program.”