Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Julie Kent Named New Artistic Director at The Washington Ballet

TWB names Julie Kent new Artistic Director

From our friends at The Washington Ballet...

Yesterday, The Washington Ballet Board of Directors selected Julie Kent, retired Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and artistic director of the ABT Summer Intensive program, as Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet (TWB) effective, July 1, 2016.

Kent began her dance training locally at the Academy of the Maryland Youth Ballet and received additional training at the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theatre II summer sessions. At the age of 16 she joined ABT as an apprentice at the invitation of Mikhail Baryshnikov. She progressed through the corps de ballet then to soloist in 1990 and to principal dancer in 1993. She has the distinction as the longest-serving dancer at ABT, having danced with the company for 29 years. Her extensive roles encompass the breadth of the ballet repertoire and as a muse to choreographers who created works on her. Kent is an accomplished dancer, teacher, devoted mother, wife, and inspiration and role model to aspiring dancers.

She is the recipient of the Prix de Lausanne (1986), the Erik Bruhn Prize (1993), the Prix de la Danse (2000), an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts from North Carolina School of the Arts (2012), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Dance Magazine. Her film appearances include starring roles in Dancers (1987) opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov and Center Stage (2000.)

"I am excited to return to the DC area and to have this opportunity to share my experience to train and nurture dancers so that they can develop to their full potential," says Kent. "A wonderful part about being a dancer is tradition and knowledge that is handed down from one era to the next and I look forward to sharing my perspective with this talented company."

"Julie is eloquent about the importance of beauty as a force for humanity. Her perspective is consistent with The Washington Ballet's mission, our commitment to dancers and to students, and the institution's contribution to the community in the broadest sense," notes Sylvia de Leon, Board Chair.

"While Julie is an iconic American ballerina, it is her deep understanding of ballet, the individual dancer, the audience and the role of ballet in humanity that makes her an outstanding choice," de Leon added. "The Board quickly realized that Julie's vision is aligned with our strategic goals for the Company, the school and the community. She brings a lifelong understanding of the dancer perspective and the discipline which ballet demands of its dancers. Her leadership and her commitment to the individual and the art form will further elevate the already superb dancer and student training at TWB."

Also joining The Washington Ballet as Associate Artistic Director will be Kent's husband,
Victor Barbee, currently the associate artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, a capacity in which he has served for 13 years. A principal dancer with ABT for 28 years, Barbee brings to TWB an equally vast understanding of dancers and the intricacies of a dance organization. de Leon says "the board is delighted that Barbee brings to the organization decades of invaluable management experience and a proven commitment to excellence."

Washington Ballet board member, the renowned ballet dancer, David Hallberg said "I have known and worked with both Julie and Victor for years and could not be more pleased that they are joining The Washington Ballet. They will collectively bring a knowledgeable artistic sensibility paired by an innate dignity and passion for furthering this timeless art form.  It will be a perfect marriage between company and artistic leadership with huge potential for increasing success."

Board vice chair Reggie Van Lee said that "the unusual and special partnership of Kent and Barbee will lead an already vibrant organization to the next generation of great ballet companies." De Leon added that "the growth and dynamism of the Nation's Capital as a cultural destination now serves to attract the best and brightest talent in the country". These two outstanding leaders are national spokesmen for art and culture and exemplary global ambassadors of dance.

The Washington Ballet (TWB) was originally founded as The Washington School of Ballet in 1944 by legendary ballet pioneer Mary Day and incorporated as a professional company in 1976. The Washington Ballet is one of the pre-eminent ballet organizations in the United States. TWB built an international reputation presenting bold works by choreographers from around the world, including Choo San Goh, Christopher Wheeldon, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, Hans van Manen and Jiří Kylián, as well as neoclassical masterworks and fresh staging of 19th century classics. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Septime Webre and Managing Interim Director, Shakira Segundo, TWB has embraced a three-part mission: ensuring excellence in its professional performance company; growing the next generation of dancers through its Washington School of Ballet; and serving the community in which it resides through robust community engagement programs.

Julie Kent is the longest serving Ballerina in American Ballet Theatre's 75 year history. She began her dance training with Hortensia Fonseca at the Academy of the Maryland Youth Ballet in Bethesda, MD and attended summer sessions at American Ballet Theatre II and the School of American Ballet before joining American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in 1985. In that same year, Kent won first place in the regional finals of the National Society of Arts and Letters at the Kennedy Center. In 1986, she was the only American to win a medal at the Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition, and she became a member of ABT's corps de ballet.

Kent starred in the Herbert Ross film "Dancers" in 1987 opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov. She was appointed a Soloist with ABT in 1990 and a Principal Dancer in 1993, the year in which she won the Erik Bruhn Prize in Toronto and was named one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People". In April 2000, Kent won the "Prix Benois de la Danse" and is the only American woman ever to have won this prize. Later that year, Kent starred in the motion picture "Center Stage" directed by Nicholas Hytner. In 2012, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts as well as a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from Dance Magazine. Since 2014, she has been the Brand Ambassador for HANIA by Anya Cole, a luxury line of hand knit cashmere in NYC.

During Miss Kent's long performing career, she has acquired a vast repertoire dancing over 100 ballets, including all of the major classical, dramatic and neo-classical roles in works by Marius Petipa, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, John Cranko, Anthony Tudor, Michel Fokine, Agnes DeMille, Merce Cunningham, Jose Limon, Jiri Kylian, Ronald Hynd, Ben Stevenson and Christopher Wheeldon.

As well, she has had roles created on her by John Neumeier, Lar Lubovitch, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, Alexei Ratmansky, Nacho Duato, Stanton Welch, James Kudelka, Jorma Elo, David Parsons, Jessica Lang and Natalie Weir.

Her appearances as a guest include invitations from the Mariinsky Theatre, Teatro alla Scala, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Berlin Staatsballett, Australian Ballet, Bayerisches Staatsballett, Teatro Colon, Ballet de Santiago, and others.

In August of 2015, after a 30 year performing career, Kent was named Artistic Director of ABT's Summer Intensive, a comprehensive summer dance program for 1,400 students at 5 campuses across the U.S.

Kent is married to ABT Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee, and as a mother of 2 children she has helped redefine the image of the American Ballerina.

Victor Barbee has served American Ballet Theatre for 41 years, joining the company in 1975 at the invitation of its founder Lucia Chase. Born in Raleigh, he received his ballet training at the North Carolina School of the Arts, the School of American Ballet and studied for a summer at the Vaganova School of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1969. Before joining ABT, he danced as a guest with the Eglevsky Ballet, Tulsa Civic Ballet and the Los Angeles Ballet.

Mr. Barbee has performed in well over 100 ballets, including many leading classical roles throughout his long career. But it is his portrayals of characters that have made the greatest impact. He worked with George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins as a student and has had roles created on him by Antony Tudor, Agnes DeMille, Kenneth MacMillan, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natasha Makarova, Twyla Tharp, James Kudelka and David Parsons among others.

He starred on Broadway in Woman of the Year opposite Raquel Welch followed by Debbie Reynolds and with Bernadette Peters in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance. He also made special guest star appearances in the television series Hart to Hart and Laverne and Shirley, and had featured roles in the films The Turning Point and Dancers.

Promoted by Mikhail Baryshnikov to Soloist in 1979 and Principal Dancer in 1984, he became a Ballet Master 1997, Assistant Artistic Director in 2001 and Associate Artistic Director in 2003 under Kevin McKenzie.