What Julie Kent's Washington Ballet Looks Like
As she was stepping into her new role as artistic director of The Washington Ballet this July, ballet icon Julie Kent made a natural fit for the cover of our first-ever Feminist Issue. At the time, she was still just starting to get her feet wet. Writer Marina Harss' profile of Kent covered some of her dreams for the troupe, like increasing the roster, expanding the repertoire and using live music whenever possible. But now we've started to see some of her changes in action. So what does a Washington Ballet led by Julie Kent actually look like?
Live Music is Here
Count it as Dream Accomplished: Yesterday, the company announced that each of its spring performances will feature a live orchestra, led by a guest conductor from other ballet companies around the country. (What a fun idea!) Charles Barker, from American Ballet Theatre and Pittsburgh Ballet, will conduct Giselle in March, and Martin West of San Francisco Ballet will conduct the company's season-closing repertory program in May.
The Nutcracker music will be taped because, as Kent told The Washington Post's Sarah Kaufman, “We won’t sell one more ticket if we have live music, and it’s about $100,000 a week. We have to move forward strategically and sensibly, and use the money for the orchestra where we can get the most out of it.”
No word on how the company will foot the live music bill this spring, although TWB's website does have eight separate categories listed under "Support."
Big ABT Names Sign On
Kent with Stiefel in 2008, PC Kent Becker
We also found out yesterday that Kent's first-ever commissioned work will go to Ethan Stiefel, one of her former partners. He's recently dabbled in choreography on Flesh and Bone, at the Royal New Zealand Ballet and on ABT's Studio Company. His new one act ballet, tentatively titled Frontier, will be based on John F. Kennedy's determination to land a man on the moon.
He's not the only ABT alum Kent's brought in. Former principal Xiomara Reyes, who retired the same year as Kent, is the new head of The Washington Ballet School.
New Dancers Hired
Kent has hired two ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School grads: Brittany Stone as a dancer and Adelaide Clauss as an apprentice. She's also brought in two major stars—the much-loved Cuban dancer Rolando Sarabia and former Korean National Ballet principal Eun Won Lee. Expect many more names in the coming seasons if the company grows from 21 to 40, as Kent hopes it will.
Kent with David Hallberg in Seven Sonatas, via nytimes.com
This spring, TWB will add to its repertoire two works by ballet's most sought-after choreographers today: In Creases by Justin Peck and Seven Sonatas by Alexei Ratmansky (in which Kent was in the original cast). The company will also tackle Sir Frederick Ashton's beloved classic The Dream for the first time.
Workshops for Outside Dancers
If you're really curious what Kent's like at the head of the studio, sign up for her master class series next month. Reyes will be teaching on November 12 and Kent on November 19. The two-part series will also include character and contemporary classes, plus post-class Q&As with the two directors. The series is open to adult dancers—and could be a smart audition opportunity for anyone curious about joining the company.
Of course, it's still early in Kent's directing career. But so far, most of these choices seem like savvy moves—even if they're heavily inspired by her ABT background. We can't wait to see what else she has in store.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: