“The 40th anniversary will really be telling the story of the company from the beginning to where we are now and where we want to go,” says Julie Kent.
Kent is the Washington Ballet’s new artistic director and though she now helms the local institution, she is most closely associated with New York’s American Ballet Theatre, where she danced for three decades (People magazine once touted her as its “new leading lady.”) However, taking on the stewardship of the Washington Ballet returns the Bethesda-born Kent to her roots and to a connection with The Washington Ballet’s founder, Mary Day.
“My whole ballet background started on another branch of the tree that Mary Day planted in Washington,” Kent says of her affiliation as a child with the Maryland Youth Ballet, which Day had encouraged Hortensia Fonseca to start. Day’s legacy will be honored this Friday, Sept. 30, with a special celebration of the Washington Ballet at the Kennedy Center.
Kent’s predecessor Septime Webre, will also be honored, and she acknowledges the great work he accomplished, especially in nurturing and developing new dancers and audiences through community engagement efforts at THEARC in Southeast D.C. Kent intends to build on Webre’s work with her husband Victor Barbee, hired to be her assistant artistic director, but her focus is on increasing the company’s dance repertoire to include more internationally renowned masterworks, as well as funding for live musical accompaniment.
As for fans of Webre’s Washington-specific adaptation of The Nutcracker, Kent has no plans to change the annual tradition. Indeed, Webre will even return to mount this year’s production. “Absolutely no, no changes to that,” she says. “I think the city feels very much in ownership of that production.” Kent also has no plans to join her dancers on stage anytime soon — “I’ll always miss it, but I’m not looking…to make a comeback” — nor is she planning to add choreographer to her resume.
“I love to choreograph in ballet class, I like to make steps, but that’s a whole different thing than conceiving a piece, and all the components,” she says. “I love the mystery of how that creative process happens, and I think, unless you really feel that from a really emphatic part of you, there’s enough sort of not-very-good choreography in the world. I don’t think I need to add to it.” — Doug Rule
The Washington Ballet’s 40th Anniversary Celebration is Friday, Sept. 30, at 8 p.m., at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $40 to $175. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
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