By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
Did you know that the nation’s capital has its own rock star ballet company? You probably did, but, like me, hadn’t really focused on it. But, for just a minute, go with me into the storied studios of this historic ballet company and meet its new director, Julie Kent, a true rock star of the ballet world, if ever there was one! Thirty years as a prima ballerina with the American Ballet Company in New York….now in her next career as artistic director of The Washington Ballet and back home again to stay with her family, her husband, Victor Barbee (an international ballet star as well, and now the company’s associate artistic director), and their two children.. Yes, Julie Kent, THAT Julie Kent, Prima Ballerina, the toast of the ballet world for so many years, was born and raised here in Bethesda, MD, is back and now she’s challenging the ballet world to compete with her newly energized, scrappy, and classically-trained company.
This hometown ballet company, established in 1944, is well on its way to becoming as well-trained and steeped in classical techniques as Julie herself. They are aching to take on the challenge of being the ballet company of the nation’s capital and to compete with much larger established companies for the hearts and minds of not only the metro area, but the world! I think Julie Kent can do this, but it’s not going to happen overnight. Julie has a ten-year plan of intensive training and company building and I think she has the chops to hone this company’s skills to such a level that this national treasure of a ballet company will do us even more proud than they have already done—very much like those Caps! How about those Caps? Huh? Wow!
But more on that later…let’s look in on that Washington holiday institution, “The Nutcracker” set in a Georgetown home in 1882 and tailored by Septime Webre 15 years ago to be one of a kind, a paean to our nation’s capital through dance, sumptuous sets and costumes, set to the gorgeous music of Tchaikovsky. With George Washington as the heroic Nutcracker and George III as the Rat King, Betsy Ross, Frederick Douglas, and lots of other Washington institutions and historical figures (not to mention waltzing cherry blossoms) represented throughout the piece, audiences will fall in love with it all over again! You know the basic story, so we can skip over that, but wait until you see these dancers! The sets and costumes and choreography will remain the same, but the dancers and the technique they have been honing since Julie Kent came home to work with them…well, you will be thrilled and amazed, I promise!
I was recently privileged to sit in on a rehearsal of the Grand Pas de Deux (the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy) from “The Nutcracker”, danced by two of the most exquisite dancers I can imagine appearing in this ballet, new company member, Katherine Barkman (from Ballet Manila) and Rolando Sarabia (from Cuba). Following the rehearsal, I was given a few minutes to talk one on one with Julie Kent about her carefully laid out long-term plans for the company. She, in no uncertain terms, told me that she plans to contribute to (and I expect change for the better!) the artistic landscape of the nation’s capital.
The rehearsal I attended was in one of the larger studios at the original school in DC (there are now several satellite schools and campuses). I actually attended class in that building briefly in the mid-1970’s and can attest that yes, indeed, it’s the exact same building! The halls echo with all the years of dancers laughing, crying, sweating, and training for awesome careers in ballet all over the world.
Let’s hear it for our favorite Washington teams! The Nats, The Caps, and…Julie Kent and The Washington Ballet! Now get out there and get your tickets to “The Nutcracker”! Quick! They are going fast!
“The Nutcracker” Ticket and Performance Information:
THEARC Theater Performances: Saturday, November 24- Sunday, November 25, 2018. Tickets to performances at THEARC Theater may be purchased online or by calling 202.362.3606 X605.
Warner Theatre Performances November 29 – December 28, 2018. Tickets to Warner Theatre performances may be purchased online at Ticketmaster or by calling 202.397.7328 (SEAT). Tickets are also available in-person at The Warner Theatre Box Office and Ticketmaster outlets.