Eyebrows, prepare for liftoff. The Washington Ballet has announced its 2014-2015 season, and among its offerings of short, punchy contemporary works is a great big anomaly called “Swan Lake.” It will be performed April 8-12, 2015, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.
On the one hand, there is a certain wild logic to this choice. The company has already essayed such full-length ballets as “Giselle,” “Cinderella” and “Romeo and Juliet.” As every ballet company knows, familiarity breeds ticket sales. The well-known story ballet is as good as money in the bank. And gone are the days when only a troupe of a certain conventional artistic status (a calculus of size, age, repertoire, budget, geography, etc.) felt entitled to “Swan Lake.” Now every company wants it. The Washington Ballet shall not be denied. It’s democratic, no?
But on the other hand, do the math. The Washington Ballet is a chamber-size company, 17 dancers and two apprentices. “Swan Lake” is a large ballet. A very large ballet. The corps of swans alone usually numbers two dozen.
Then there are the stylistic hurdles. The Washington Ballet has very fine dancers, but since the company’s repertoire mostly leans toward the pop-influenced and contemporary (see, for example, its rock-ballet program at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, March 6-9, “The British Invasion: The Beatles and the Rolling Stones”), the dancers are unused to the demands of “Swan Lake,” a pinnacle of classical style.
“I wanted it to be a surprising choice,” said Artistic Director Septime Webre on Wednesday. He says the company will expand to include the 15 members of the Studio Company, a second-tier division, plus about 15 trainees (advanced ballet students aged 17-21) from the Washington School of Ballet.
“The goal is a corps of 24,” Webre said. Guest artists will likely step into the leading roles. David Hallberg, star of American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet, has been invited but Webre said he has not yet confirmed if he can perform. “I think we probably would have a guest in the Odette/Odile role, in addition to our artists,” Webre said. “But that’s still a little unformed.”
Perhaps the most exciting guest artist of all is a full orchestra—yes, live music, which had become a rarity for the company. “I would not have considered doing ‘Swan Lake’ without it,” Webre said.
Sets and costumes will be on loan from another company, though Webre said the details have not yet been worked out.
The relative intimacy of the Eisenhower Theater will help make the full-length ballet doable, Webre said, as fewer dancers will be needed to fill the space. “Intimacy doesn’t require the huge groups that the Mariinsky would put in the Opera House,” he said.
Live music is a priority of the company’s strategic plan, Webre said, and next season features musicians aplenty–a strong sign of artistic advancement at the Washington Ballet. It does give one hope for “Swan Lake,” which, in addition to a mass of feather-bedecked corps dancers and crisp, steady classical technique, depends so much upon atmosphere, moonlight and mystery—and a sensitive conductor and responsive musicians will undoubtedly help.
Next season also includes a world premiere by Webre: “Sleepy Hollow,” after the Washington Irving short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It will feature specially commissioned music by Matthew Pierce, performed by a live chamber orchestra. This will be the third of Webre’s works based on American literature; the others were “The Great Gatsby” and “Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises.” Liz Vandal will create the costumes. Both Vandal and Pierce collaborated with Webre in 2012 on “Alice (in Wonderland).”
Webre says his “Sleepy Hollow” is inspired by the landscapes of the Hudson River School and by the current fascination with ghost stories and the occult. “Vampires are so yesterday,” he quipped. “Headless horsemen are tomorrow.” “Sleepy Hollow” runs Feb. 18-22, 2015, at the Eisenhower Theater.
The highly successful “Alice (in Wonderland)” will return to the Eisenhower May 6-17, 2015—also with live music. Additionally that month, the company will perform “Tour de Force: ‘Serenade,’” featuring the Balanchine work awash in blue tulle and romance, along with other short pieces, May 13-14, also in the Eisenhower.
The season will also include the 10th anniversary of Webre’s “Nutcracker,” at the Warner Theatre Dec. 3-28. (No live music for it, unfortunately.)
The season begins with a program called “Masterworks,” featuring Hans van Manen’s “5 Tangos,” with music by Astor Piazzolla; Jiří Kylián’s “Petite Mort,” with music by Mozart, and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia,” music by Gyorgy Ligeti, at Sidney Harman Hall Oct. 22-26.