By Peggy McGlone
Two years after replacing its successful, longtime artistic director with a celebrated ballerina who had never run a company, the Washington Ballet is struggling to close a $3 million debt and attract audiences to its dramatic change in programming.
The company has a different look under former American Ballet Theatre star Julie Kent, who this fall began her third season as artistic director. Four popular dancers left recently, including Brooklyn Mack, an internationally known artist and audience favorite. The company’s repertoire has shifted from the playful, quirky sensibility of past director-choreographer Septime Webre to the high-end standards that fueled Kent’s ABT career.
Hiring Kent was part of the board of directors’ overall plan to reinvent the Washington Ballet as a bigger, better company — a national treasure, guided by a star, with the elite repertoire and dancers to rival the world’s great ballet institutions.
“We do believe in the star power of Julie,” says Washington Ballet board chairman Jean-Marie Fernandez. “She is taking what she has learned for 30 years to develop her dancers and bring that to the stage.”
So far, though, it appears that Kent’s fame has not attracted enough ticket buyers and donors to fund the new vision of the Washington Ballet, with more and better dancers performing the “Great Books” of ballet. It’s a big risk, because the transformation will be costly and take years. And then there are the questions no one seems to have asked in the planning stages: Does the public want this kind of company, and will enough donors fund it?
Read the full article in The Washington Post.