For her sec­ond sea­son, Wash­ing­ton Bal­let di­rec­tor fa­vors a fresh slate

A trio of world pre­mieres — all in one night — and an em­pha­sis on live mu­sic mark Julie Kent’s big plans for 2017-2018

The Washington Post Sunday - - DANCE - BY SARAH L. KAUFMAN sarah.kaufman@wash­post.com

The cre­ative buzz of brand­new work re­turns in force for the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let’s 2017-2018 sea­son, which will fea­ture three world pre­mieres in a sin­gle evening, as well as en­dur­ing gems and com­pany pre­mieres by such lu­mi­nar­ies as Alexei Rat­man­sky, Jerome Rob­bins and John Cranko.

Ad­di­tion­ally, as a mea­sure of the stan­dard of so­phis­ti­ca­tion that Artis­tic Di­rec­tor Julie Kent has set for the com­pany, all of next sea­son’s per­for­mances (ex­cept the peren­nial “Nutcracker” run) will fea­ture live mu­sic.

In shap­ing her sec­ond year at the helm, Kent says, she felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity “to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for other peo­ple.” To this end, for the com­pany’s spring se­ries (March 14-18 at Sid­ney Har­man Hall), she has com­mis­sioned a trio of small-scale works from emerg­ing chore­og­ra­phers who are still ac­tively danc­ing: Marcelo Gomes, one of Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre’s most dy­namic and ex­pe­ri­enced prin­ci­pals, who has cre­ated three pieces for ABT; Gemma Bond, an ABT corps de bal­let mem­ber, orig­i­nally from the Royal Bal­let, who will present an evening of her work at New York’s Joyce Theater this July; and Clifton Brown, for­merly of Alvin Ai­ley Amer­i­can Dance Theater and now with Jes­sica Lang Dance.

The fact that all three are still danc­ing, Kent says, gives them “a very in­ter­est­ing point of view, look­ing at our art form through a two-way lens.”

Kent has bun­dled the rest of the sea­son un­der the theme of “Mas­ter­works,” with a con­tin­ued em­pha­sis on mag­nif­i­cent pieces that broke ground in their day and of­fer fruit­ful chal­lenges for the dancers, mu­si­cians and audi- ence. The sea­son opens at the Kennedy Cen­ter Eisen­hower Theater with “Rus­sian Mas­ters” (Oct. 4-8), fea­tur­ing two stan­dards from the Bal­lets Russes era: Michel Fokine’s plot­less yet deeply ro­man­tic “Les Syl­phides” (1909) and Balan­chine’s con­densed nar­ra­tive “Prodi­gal Son” (1929). The vir­tu­osic pas de deux from Mar­ius Petipa’s 19th-cen­tury “Le Cor­saire” and Rat­man­sky’s 2001 take on mod­ern so­ci­ety, “Bolero,” round out the pro­gram.

Kent says that with such time­tested reper­toire, she’s build­ing a foun­da­tion for her dancers, “so you can open the doors to dance any­thing on a great level, be­cause it teaches you as it goes along.”

(Former artis­tic di­rec­tor Sep­time We­bre’s Wash­ing­ton themed “Nutcracker” re­turns to the Warner The­atre from Nov. 24 to Dec. 24.)

The com­pany will re­turn to the Kennedy Cen­ter Opera House 14-18 with Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which the South African chore­og­ra­pher cre­ated in 1962 for the Stuttgart Bal­let. It’s well-suited for the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let, scaled for a small­ish com­pany and high­light­ing the ensem­ble as well as the ill-fated lovers.

This Cranko work is a wel­come trea­sure, sel­dom seen here, cre­ated by a mas­ter­ful sto­ry­teller who fa­vored nat­u­ral­ism and sim­plic­ity. The im­por­tant con­tem­po­rary chore­og­ra­phers Jiri Kylian and John Neumeier thrived un­der Cranko’s ste­ward­ship of the Stuttgart Bal­let; while they were still per­form­ing, he nudged them into dance-mak­ing. Cranko’s own bright ca­reer was cut short at age 45, when he col­lapsed on a plane scarcely a decade af­ter “Romeo and Juliet” opened to high praise.

Af­ter the raft of pre­mieres in March, the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let will close its sea­son April 11-15 at the Eisen­hower Theater with Balan­chine’s “Ser­e­nade,” Fred­er­ick Ash­ton’s lu­mi­nous, pre­ci­sion­driven “Sym­phonic Vari­a­tions” and Rob­bins’s “The Con­cert (Or, the Per­ils of Ev­ery­body),” a comedic study of mu­sic ob­ses­sives that’s by turns laugh-out-loud and poignant.

Next sea­son has the virtue of be­ing more spaced out be­tween fall and spring, un­like this year. Given the change in lead­er­ship and the chal­lenges of last-minute pro­gram­ming that arose, all of the new reper­toire for the 20162017 sea­son has rolled out this spring (with the last se­ries, in­clud­ing Ethan Stiefel’s world pre­miere (May 25-27 at the Opera House; see the as­so­ci­ated ar­ti­cle). That has made for an es­pe­cially busy few months, Kent says, on top of her on­go­ing adap­ta­tions to the new job.

Although she says she’s happy with how the dancers are reFeb. spond­ing to the “dif­fer­ent artis­tic menu,” Kent says that her ad­just­ment to life out­side ABT, where she was a dancer and teacher for 30 years, has not been easy.

“In gen­eral it’s been a huge chal­lenge,” she says, “mov­ing your whole life, your fam­ily, leav­ing a work fam­ily that I’ve known since I was a teenager.

“But I re­ally be­lieve in this pur­suit that the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let has charged me with, and as I get to know more peo­ple and they get to know me, I think it will feel much more like the en­vi­ron­ment that I’m used to. And it has great re­wards, when you see dancers chang­ing be­fore your eyes. And when I hear, as one said re­cently, ‘My dream come true is hap­pen­ing right now.’ ”

“These are in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences,” says Kent, “that so few peo­ple get to have.”

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