Diversity is the theme of the Washington Ballet’s 2015-2016 season, in more ways than one. It will include world premieres by Edwaard Liang and the Italian choreographer Mauro de Candio; a Latin Heat festival that launches an annual project to focus on different parts of the world, and an initiative to step up the training and development of dancers and choreographers of color, dubbed “Let’s Dance Together.”
The season will also include Trey McIntyre’s “Mercury Half-Life,” with music by the rock group Queen, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Sombrerisimo” and Stephen Mills’s full-length “Hamlet,” with music by Philip Glass. Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre selected “Hamlet” to mark the First Folio Exhibition at Gallaudet University next spring.
Additionally, in a new program called “ICONS: of dance,” audience members can watch former New York City Ballet dancers Arthur Mitchell and Edward Villella coach Washington Ballet dancers in roles for which they were known, and see former American Ballet Theatre ballerina (and Washington Ballet alumna) Amanda McKerrow coach Maki Onuki in “Giselle.”
In an interview Wednesday, Webre said that with the diversity initiative “Let’s Dance Together,” he hopes to expand upon what the company’s late founder Mary Day started. “Mary Day was an early pioneer, in some respects, in producing ballerinas like Virginia Johnson,” Webre said, referring to the artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who is African American. Bringing in Misty Copeland as a guest artist was just a start, he said. The well-known African American soloist with American Ballet Theatre will dance in the Washington Ballet’s “Swan Lake” Thursday and Sunday.
“We have been working for a long time to make our industry more diverse, but we could systematize our efforts even more,” Webre said. He has been consulting with Johnson and Arthur Mitchell, who founded Dance Theatre of Harlem after leaving New York City Ballet. “They said, first, that they agreed with what I already knew, that it would be an uphill battle as long as great ballet schools didn’t seem like welcoming places for dancers of color and their families. No. 2, that it wasn’t just about community outreach and scholarships,” he continued. They urged him “to try to build an integrated faculty, and an integrated company so dancers can see themselves in the grownups onstage.”
This will take expansion on several fronts, but Webre said he has the means to do it. The ballet’s budget is $11.8 million for the 2015-16 season, up from $10.5 million for the current season. Next year the dancers will have a 36-week contract, marking an additional week from this season. Webre has hired two additional dancers for next season. And the Washington Ballet is expanding into three new studios on Wisconsin Avenue, in the development known as Cathedral Commons, about a block south from its headquarters. “So our school can grow,” Webre said. “And our adult program is exploding. We’re feeling very upbeat.”
For a dates and a full schedule, visit http://www.washingtonballet.org.