When Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent curated a selection of seven works for the company’s season-opening performances this week at the National Building Museum, she contradicted convention and started with reverence.

In ballet parlance, the term refers to a bow or curtsy performed at the end of class to acknowledge the teacher and accompanist, or at the conclusion of a performance to recognize the audience. But when spectators take their seats at the Washington Ballet’s first in-person performances since the start of the pandemic, the show will open with that acknowledgment, as conveyed through excerpts of choreographer Jessica Lang’s 2019 piece “Reverence.”

“It’s just going to be such a joyful reunion and celebration and manifestation of all the devotion and hard work that our entire community has put into keeping our mission alive,” Kent says. “So that’s how we’re opening this program — with our gratitude.”

To kick off the company’s comeback season, which will include “The Nutcracker” at the Warner Theatre this holiday season and a winter run of “Swan Lake” at the Kennedy Center, the company is welcoming back audiences Friday night at the National Building Museum with an 80-minute “amuse-bouche for the eyes,” as Kent puts it. The eclectic lineup will include such classic works as “Flames of Paris” pas de deux and “Diana and Acteon” pas de deux, plus contemporary creations “Reverence” and “Werner Sonata” and the world-premiere piece “B1.”

Amid challenging, coronavirus-related budget cuts, the Washington Ballet did keep its dancers artistically and athletically engaged over the past year-plus by collaborating with performing arts streamer Marquee TV on seven filmed productions. But in-person performance, Kent emphasizes, remains a dancer’s lifeblood.

“That was what we could do, right? And we did it,” Kent says of the filmed productions. “It’s a really beautiful thing to watch, and I think it’s a testament to the talent and innovation and commitment of dancers and our field in general. But that heightened sense of live performance, it’s the essence of our art. It can’t be replaced.”

Andile Ndlovu, a Washington Ballet company member and the choreographer of the new work “B1” — a riff on the unifying message of “be one” — acknowledges that the pandemic left him questioning his career, and considering whether walking away from ballet would be the most prudent path. Having persevered and returned to the studio with a newfound appreciation for his art, Ndlovu designed his piece as a lively celebration of the creative process and a showcase for the company’s diverse range of talents.

“I feel like there’s a new understanding of what I do and what dance means to me,” Ndlovu says. “We’re happy to be back. But being back, we’re here with a different focus, with a different understanding, with a much more creative point of view, with much more of a direct point of view of what we’re doing. I think that’s where I came from, conceptualizing this [piece] and bringing it to life.”

Although the National Building Museum lacks a traditional staging space, the Washington Ballet has grown accustomed to dancing in unconventional settings through its filmed productions, which were shot at such D.C. area locations as Washington National Cathedral and Wheaton Regional Park. And the museum, with its vast Great Hall and towering Corinthian columns, provides an undeniably dramatic backdrop.

“We were conscious that you need a lot of space and a lot of air for people to feel comfortable at this point in time,” says Patrick Mühlen-Schulte, the Washington Ballet’s managing director. “But on top of that, it’s just a really exciting, nontraditional venue to be doing an exciting program.”

After raising the curtain with its National Building Museum performances, the Washington Ballet will pivot to launching its season in earnest. In addition to “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake,” the season will feature a production of “Giselle” next spring at the Warner Theatre and three new ballets in June, from choreographers Mthuthuzeli November, Brett Ishida and Lang, as part of the company’s NEXTsteps program.

“I always encourage our company and our students to look back at what you’ve accomplished and recognize that and acknowledge it,” Kent says. “There will be a lot of reflection, hopefully a lot of celebration [at the National Building Museum], and then the next morning, we’re going to be looking forward to what’s next.”  

If you go

The Washington Ballet's season-opening performance

National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. washingtonballet.org.

Dates: Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Prices: $80-$110.