Julie Kent Names Xiomara Reyes Head of The Washington School of Ballet
Major changes are afoot at The Washington Ballet. Although former American Ballet Theatre star Julie Kent doesn't officially step into her role as the company's artistic director until July, she's already making moves in preparation for the 2016–17 season. This afternoon, she announced that another former ABT principal will be joining the team: Xiomara Reyes will head The Washington School of Ballet, effective September 1.
The move marks Kent's first staff appointment. Reyes will take the place of revered teacher Kee Juan Han (who famously trained David Hallberg) and who announced his retirement in late April. Reyes' husband, Rinat Imaev, currently a company teacher at ABT, will also join TWSB as senior faculty and company teacher. We spoke with Reyes about the vision she and Kent share, her Cuban roots, relocating to DC and more.
Xiomara Reyes, with Jared Nelson, when she guested with TWB in their Sleepy Hollow last year. Photo by Media4Artists—Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.
What have you been up to since you retired from ABT last year?
I have been dancing, guesting, judging, teaching. We just came from teaching in Japan for three weeks. We still have commitments for various summer intensives, and we have IBStage, which is our summer intensive that we co-direct in Barcelona. And we are going to Varna this summer, too, so we have been moving a lot.
How did The Washington School of Ballet opportunity come up?
When Julie knew they were looking for somebody to take care of the school, she told us and wondered if we would like to apply. She wants to create something with the company, and I think we probably have the same idea and vision for the school. I know there were a lot of people they were considering, but I had worked with The Washington Ballet last year when I danced in their Sleepy Hollow, so I knew I was not unknown to them.
Kent and Reyes will soon be working together again. (Stan Godlewski for The Washington Post)
How is your vision similar to Kent's?
We both want to offer a very nourishing approach to life and to dance and to the kids. It's about trying to nourish the artistic part, but also we have a pretty high standard for what we want to see in the kids. That's very important right now because she wants the connection between the school and the company to be closer.
Will you incorporate any aspects of your Cuban training at the school?
Oh, of course. [laughs] All of the faculty already come at it from their different backgrounds—like a melting pot. It’s not going to be a Cuban school; it’s not going to be a Russian school; it’s going to be what we find is the best approach to provide the kids with the best background to be able to dance in the company.
How has your husband influenced your teaching style?
I have learned a lot from his way of teaching. He’s extremely giving and generous. It’s always not about you, the teacher. It’s about the person that’s in front of you. And what I have always admired about the Russian school is the arms: the port de bras, the épaulement, the space in the movement. That’s something that I’m always trying to grab from him and incorporate in my dancing and in my teaching, too.
What do you think you’ll miss most about living in New York, and what are you looking forward to about life in DC?
I enjoyed working at ABT so much—the friends, the dancing. And I love the city, but, you know, I’m not really a city girl. I prefer the other side, more nature, and Washington has a blend of both. It has a very nice cultural life and at the same time that wonderful...suburban feel. We are looking forward to that.
Any advice for dancers who hope to have a career in ballet?
You really have to love it. You have to be very passionate about it and know that you’re going to have to put a lot of effort and concentration into it. But when you have passion, it’s not so much work. It becomes a way of being. You have to push yourself a lot, but, at the end, it’s the most rewarding thing.
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?
As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.
How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?
It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.
You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?
When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.
Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.
What happens when drones become part of the dance? For Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's latest work, Skies Calling Skies Falling, video artists David and Hi-Jin Hudge used a drone hovering 200 to 400 feet above the ground to film the dancers performing in an industrial granary. The resulting footage will be projected onto the floor and walls of the Taube Atrium Theater, creating a dystopian backdrop to the live performance.
Alex Carrington of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna
It's been 34 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling touched down on American soil, when The Royal Ballet first performed the great English master's tour de force ballet stateside. On September 22–24, Houston Ballet becomes the first North American company to perform MacMillan's epic chronicle of the murder-suicide of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Crown Prince Rudolf, and his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Chronicling the last chapter of the Hapsburg Empire, the ballet is known for its true-to-life realism, and for the role of Rudolf, which transformed the way male ballet dancers drive a story. It's considered a dream role for a male dancer. And with seven pas de deux with five different women, a deadly difficult one at that.
Driving Houston Ballet's Mayerling train is principal Connor Walsh, who nearly missed this opportunity to dance the part when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston Ballet's theatrical home, Wortham Center. Now moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and back in rehearsal, Walsh took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the role of a lifetime.
Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.
This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.
Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways: