Artistic Director Julie Kent Expands The Washington Ballet’s Offerings

Esmiana Jani and Tamas Krizsa in The Washington Ballet's Juanita y Alicia. Photo by Dean Alexander, courtesy of The Washington Ballet

After just a few months on the job as artistic director for The Washington Ballet, Julie Kent has revamped the company's enrichment programs and its school.

Dance legends will join Kent three times during the season in the series “ICONS: of dance—Sundays at The Joe." American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie is the first to appear, September 18, to discuss his time training with Mary Day, founder of The Washington School of Ballet (TWSB). A member of the artistic staff will lead another five-part series “Beyond the Stage—Sundays at The Joe," which covers information and history about upcoming main stage works. The first takes place September 25, to discuss the company's 40th anniversary program. And beginning in October, Kent will lead four “Dialogue with Dancers—Sundays at The Joe" discussions where two company members talk about their backgrounds, motivations and approaches to their roles. “You have to support the programming with opportunities for people to learn why the master works are important," she says.

Kent began her tenure as The Washington Ballet's artistic director in July, after 29 years of dancing with ABT and then serving as artistic director of its summer intensive program. She's hired recently retired ABT principal Xiomara Reyes as the new director of TWSB. Reyes' husband Rinat Imaev, a company teacher at ABT, joins TWSB as senior faculty and company teacher.

Kent is just beginning to learn her dancers' personalities and artistic strengths. “At ABT, I knew everyone's nuances, expressions and body language so well," she says. “Not having that in-depth knowledge is new, so I look forward to getting to know them with that kind of sensitivity and to developing a committed artistic atmosphere to really fulfill each of their visions as a dancer."

The 2016–17 season will celebrate company milestones and enact what Kent envisions for The Washington Ballet's future: a greater focus on master works to be performed with “artistic sensitivity, finesse and excellence," she says. She and her husband Victor Barbee, The Washington Ballet's new associate artistic director, will restage a full-length Giselle together, and former artistic director Septime Webre's The Nutcracker returns during the holidays. Three mixed repertoire programs will include company premieres from Justin Peck, Alexei Ratmansky and a newly commissioned work. The season also includes works by George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Sir Frederick Ashton, Jirí Kylián, Twyla Tharp and William Forsythe.

The 40th anniversary celebration on September 30 kicks off the season in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Eisenhower Theater and Opera House, a new venue for the company's large-scale works. The Washington Ballet Studio Company performs works choreographed by company dancers October 29–30 in its new home, THEARC Theater.

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