Just a year after stepping down from the Washington Ballet, Septime Webre is taking the reins of the Hong Kong Ballet, where next month he will become the new artistic director, the company’s board announced today.
Webre’s first task will be overseeing the company’s season-opening production, in August, of “Don Quixote,” which has been staged by the world-renowned ballerina Nina Ananiashvili.
The new development goes a bit counter to his own life-choreography, Webre said in an interview today. After directing the Washington Ballet for 17 years, Webre had been looking forward to creating works for other companies, and “enjoying life as an artist. I knew I’d return to directing at some point, but I didn’t think it would be one year later. This opportunity came up and it just felt right.”
The relationship with Hong Kong Ballet, a company of about 50 dancers, grew out of a planned tour to the territory with the Washington Ballet about three years ago,
Webre said. The tour fell through, but later on the agent for the trip alerted Webre to the company’s search for a director. Webre will replace Madeleine Onne, director since 2009.
He describes the company’s repertoire as “just ravishing,” with classical full-length productions and new works by Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, as well as other choreographers. He’ll add his own works in future seasons.
“The scope of the company is very international,” Webre said. “And I grew up as an expatriate, and there’s something about being an outsider that feels comfortable to me.” Webre, the son of a sugar engineer, moved with his family throughout Africa and the Caribbean during his youth.
Webre has been studying Cantonese on CD, as he drives to rehearsals for the Philip Glass opera “The Fall of the House of Usher,” with the Wolf Trap Opera and CityDance, which he is directing. (A Halcyon Stage production, it has a one-night-only showing June 17 at Union Market’s Dock 5.) He has already selected the name by which he’ll be known in his new home, a process that he says is traditional for Westerners coming to Hong Kong.
His new name, chosen to sound somewhat familiar (with his family name first, as is customary) while also conveying something of his essence, is Wei Seng Teen. Webre said it means “one who protects talent.”
Happily, Washington will continue to feel Webre’s influence. He will remain artistic director of the Halcyon Stage series, which launched in 2017. But the yearlong series has been retooled as a 10-day annual festival; the first will be in June 2018, and Webre will continue to program it. “It’ll be an interdisciplinary kind of creativity-con,” he said.