Julie Kent’s first season as artistic director of the Washington Ballet will be marked by contemporary masters and classics beloved over her distinguished dance career, the former ballerina said in an interview Monday.
But her strategy for “building the company,” as Kent put it, includes more than the ambitious array of first-class works for the 2016-2017 season.
Kent will be increasing the company’s roster from 25 to 28 dancers (including apprentices). Among her new hires are the acclaimed Cuban Rolando Sarabia and the Boston Ballet’s Brittany Stone. Kent will formally announce her plans at Tuesday’s media conference at the company’s headquarters.
Highlights of the season — which also marks the company’s 40th anniversary — include Kent’s restaging of the full-length“Giselle” with her husband and associate artistic director, Victor Barbee. The romantic-era ballet about love, betrayal and redemption will be performed in February 2017. Next spring, three mixed-repertory programs will feature such company premieres as Justin Peck’s“In Creases,” with music by Philip Glass, in March at Sidney Harman Hall, and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas,” accompanied by Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas, in April at Warner Theatre.
The Washington Ballet will carve out more new territory in its third mixed-rep program: In May 2017 it will dance for the first time in the Kennedy Center Opera House, in order to present another first, Frederick Ashton’s magnificent, witty “The Dream.” The peerless British choreographer’s distillation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a seamless melding of storytelling, fantasy and human drama.
“What I’m really excited about is, it’s prompted by the right reasons,” Kent said of the Opera House debut, necessitated by the production demands of “The Dream.” “It’s not a statement.”
That program will also include Antony Tudor’s “Jardin aux Lilas” (“Lilac Garden”) and a world premiere by an artist yet to be named.
“These are all masterworks, and they’re beautiful, and they have special meaning for me,” Kent said of her programming choices, which also include Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort” and Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs.” “‘Jardin’ was the first leading role I ever danced, as a teenager, very shortly after Antony Tudor died.” She also created a central role in “Seven Sonatas” and was an important interpreter of Ashton’s fluid and effortless-seeming style.
However, audiences should not expect Kent, who retired from American Ballet Theatre last year, to dance in any of these works herself. “I would love to, but that’s not the point,” she said, laughing. “You will not see me in tights.”
There is just one Washington Ballet performance in the fall: a 40th anniversary celebration on Sept. 30 in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. This fundraiser for the company’s communityand education programs honors the late Choo San Goh, whose streamlined choreographic style established a national reputation for the company in the 1970s and ’80s, and Septime Webre, who steps down as artistic director in June after 17 years. On the bill are Goh’s “Fives” and Webre’s “Juanita y Alicia,” the first work he made for the company.
Webre’s “Nutcracker” will be performed as usual in December at the Warner Theatre.
Most of Kent’s artistic impact will be felt in 2017. But starting in September, Kent will launch “enrichment events,” a series of discussions to “bring the audience along in the process, so they’re learning about these works and about the dancers dancing them,” she said. These will take place on Sundays at the Washington Ballet’s Joseph C. Coleman Studio, on Wisconsin Avenue NW.
In “Dialogue With Dancers,” Kent will lead a discussion about roles with the company members performing them. “I’ll get to know the company better, as will the audience,” she said. “It’s important that the face of the Washington Ballet is really the dancers themselves, and what they’re going to bring to the stage and to the community.”
The continuation of Webre’s program “Icons: of Dance” features talks by dance luminaries. Upcoming speakers include ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Judith Jamison and George Balanchine muse Patricia McBride. A “Beyond the Stage” series introduces participants to the backstories of the ballets.
A few works seen in recent Washington Ballet seasons, such as William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” and Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante,” will be reprised in the 2017 programs.
“Considering the timeline, the priority was to use what the company had existing in its repertoire and to bring ballets in that lay the groundwork for the direction in which we’re going to grow,” Kent said. “Introducing Alexei Ratmansky and Frederick Ashton and Justin Peck is a great foundation for the next season, which I’m already thinking of lining up.”
“Those works,” she said, “speak to the direction I want to lead the company.”
More information is on the Washington Ballet’s website: washingtonballet.org.