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“I’m actually just coming back from an injury,” says Dan Roberge, a principal dancer with The Washington Ballet. “I had a chronic fracture in my sesamoid in my left foot.” After the October diagnosis, Roberge’s doctor put the 28-year-old in a boot and instructed him to rest.
Five months later, and fully healed, the Australian native is returning with a vengeance as the tap-dancing “Hoofer” in George Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” The piece, set to music by Richard Rodgers, was originally choreographed for the 1936 Broadway musical On Your Toes, and later separated out as a standalone piece. TWB is featuring “Slaughter” as part of “Balanchine + Ashton,” an assortment of classic works by Balanchine and Sir Frederick Ashton premiering Wednesday at the Kennedy Center. Roberge will dance the role on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights, with Alex Kramer and Gilles DeLellio completing the run.
“Doing this role makes me excited,” says Roberge, a member of the LGBTQ community. “It’s only a 25-minute ballet, but a lot happens in 25 minutes. It’s comedic, but it’s also dark and sad. It all happens in sort of a whirlwind.” The dancer is no stranger to what he calls unique roles. “A few years back in Ashton’s ‘The Dream,’ I was dancing en pointe, which is usually what only the women do. I’ve performed in ‘Dracula,’ playing Renfield in a straight jacket while pretending to eat bugs in a cage. I’ve done everything.”
Roberge has been with TWB for a decade — “I came here when I was 18” — and has worked under its former mercurial artistic director, Septime Webre, as well as its new leader, Julie Kent, whose canny approach has been to blend experimental with classical while keeping a keen eye on artistry and elegance.
“Septime was a powerhouse director,” Roberge says. “It was all about bravado and extreme athleticism. It was very, very high energy. Julie has a more subdued energy — she focuses more on the smaller details, the artistry. Julie’s also a mother, and she’s got motherly instincts, which makes people feel cared about. That’s unique in the ballet world because quite often it feels extremely cutthroat. It feels like if it doesn’t happen straight away, then your head’s on the chopping block. She has a different approach.”
Case in point, Kent phoned Roberge the day after his diagnosis. “She said, ‘We’ll support you with whatever you need to do to get back in. Don’t get down on yourself. We’ve got you,'” he recalls. “She offered me alternative work within the company. It was a nurturing experience.
“If you push your body to the limits every single day, there’s bound to be setbacks,” he concludes. “You’re bound to experience injuries. It’s how you take them in stride rather than how you put yourself down. I guess I have a similar approach to injury management and life setbacks as Julie. We see eye-to-eye in that respect.”
The Washington Ballet’s “Balanchine + Ashton” runs from Wednesday, Feb. 19 to Sunday, Feb. 23, in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $25 to $175. For a full schedule, visit www.washingtonballet.org.
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