The Washington Ballet (TWB) is well known among the world’s leading professional ballet companies for its high standards and artistic integrity. TWB includes classical ballet dancers performing a repertory of new work. They present the very best in ballet and international members of the professional troupe include Brianne Bland of Canada, Runqiao Du of China, Sona Kharatian of Armenia, Marcelo Martinez of Paraguay, Maki Onuki of Japan, Alvaro Palau of Colombia, Luis Torres of Puerto Rico, and Laura Urgelles of Cuba.
Mary Day established the Washington School for Ballet in 1944. In 1976 she founded The Washington Ballet as an outlet for the fine dancers turned out by her school. She knew only a small percentage of the hopefuls who came through her school would have the rare combination of gifts which would enable them to dance professionally.
According to an article by Virginia Johnson, a former prima ballerina with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, “Day insisted on decorum. After the formal bow that ended each class, the students lined up to say thank you to her as well.” Mary Day died at the age of 96 in July of 2006.
The ballet’s most recent international tours have included Russia, China, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. TWB was an instrumental part of “Ballet Across America” which brought together nine of the nation’s top ballet companies for six days of ballet at The Kennedy Center. In 2000, TWB became the first American company to perform in Cuba in more than 40 years. The troupe took Cuba’s “Premio Villanueva” award for best foreign production and was later featured in a documentary, “Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight.” The 105-minute film captured touching moments of Webre’s experiences in Cuba.
AT THE WHITE HOUSE
Many first families have been associated with the Washington Ballet. This is especially true of Chelsea Clinton and Caroline Kennedy who are among the alumni of the Washington School of Ballet. Chelsea continued her ballet study until she graduated from high school. She often attended performances of TWB and her father would attend her recitals at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium.
PEOPLE magazine on 12/30/96 reported: “When we presented the President with a freshly printed copy of the Dec. 23 PEOPLE featuring photos of his daughter dancing in the Washington Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, he paused over the pictures and was rendered momentarily speechless as his eyes misted over. Says Clifford: ‘It was as if he were confronted with the evidence that the little girl who had come to the White House in bobby socks and braces was all grown up, transformed into a lovely swan.'”
The ballet world is well represented in the Obama White House. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel trained as a ballet dancer and he must have been very talented. The former Congressman was offered a full scholarship by the world famous Joffrey School of Ballet in New York City.I do not mean to exclude the Republicans because Ronald Reagan, Jr., the son of the late President, danced professionally with the second company of the Joffrey Ballet.
President George W. Bush joined local school children in the East Room of the White House in December of 2005 for a performance of The Washington Ballet. In his remarks, the President praised THEARC program in Anacostia. This 110,000-square-foot complex was opened in 2005 housing a state-of-the-art theater, dance and music studios. It serves the most disadvantaged population in Washington, D.C.
TWB is an integral part of THEARC. The ballet already had an outreach effort, DanceDC, in public elementary schools. DanceDC began in 1999 and it now has an annual budget of $679,000 a year. The ballet offers full scholarships for handpicked youngsters to continue training in a program where they are bused, at the ballet’s expense, to after school classes at THEARC. THEARC offers 30 classes for more than 275 students duplicating The Washington School of Ballet’s curriculum at its main academy.
TWB is now celebrating Artistic Director Septime Webre’s 10th anniversary with a range of work from the contemporary to the classical. Highlights include Webre’s patriotic take on The Nutcracker which pitted George Washington (The Nutcracker) against King George III (The Rat King). The Company is also presenting renowned works by Bournonville, Balanchine, Tharp, Morris, Wheeldon and many others
TWB’s version of Elton John’s Rocketman will have its world premiere on May 12th at the Harman Center. It will be followed by a dinner at the Reynolds Center for Art and Portraiture. This program also features a premiere by Edward Liang and George Balanchine’s riveting Rubies.
SOME PAST PERFORMANCES
“Genius” and “Genius2” were described as ballets for smart people. They featured works by renowned choreographers at the vanguard of contemporary dance. TWB artists last year performed one of Twyla Tharp’s wittiest pieces, the jazz-based “Baker ‘s Dozen.” They then went from classical to the innovative in Mark Morris’ tour de force, “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes”, and Christopher Wheeldon ‘s critically hailed “Morphoses.” Nacho Duato’s hypnotic pas de deux “Cor Perdut” came at the end of this engaging program.
The idea behind 7 x 7 was simple, seven works by seven choreographers, each seven-minutes-long. 7×7 focused on the universal theme of love and its myriad intricacies. As well all know, anything can happen when emotions take hold in the complicated, fickle and sometimes challenging world of relationships.
TWB in February of 2009 had an admirable production of the romantic warhorse, “La Sylphide,” at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. The staging by the Royal Danish Ballet’s Sorella Englund and Thomas Lund captured the essence of this ballet with a light touch. The cast featured petite and playful Elizabeth Gaither as the Sylph and deeply emotional David Hallberg. They acquitted themselves nicely. Guesting for the second time this season, Hallberg offered a richly textured performance as James, who is part cad, part romantic hero in his search for unattainable love.
“Washingtonian” magazine described the performance of “The Four Temperments” this way: “American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg joined the troupe for ‘The Four Temperaments,’ Balanchine’s stringent dissection of the medieval principal that the body contains four distinct humors or temperaments. A former student of recently hired school director Kee-Juan Han, Hallberg, with his golden-boy good looks and refined technique, danced a well-modulated Phlegmatic variation, blending naturally into this chamber-sized company with a fiercely democratic streak: there are no soloists or principals in the group, just a troupe of excellent dancers who shift and share roles for the most part equally.”
For three weeks in December TWB featured Tchaikovsky’s cherished Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker. Many of us have school memories of the young dance students playing the awkward angels, the gawky snowflakes, and the bumbling clowns who all aspire to the grown-up grace of the Sugar Plum Fairy or the adventurous imagination of Clara or Marie.
The ballet takes us both backward — often to our own first ballet experiences and also to our own fond family holiday season recollections. “The Nutcracker” has become a milestone in the lives of so many. While it’s a remembrance of things past, it is also a ode to the future.
This staple of the ballet world opened to dismal reviews in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1892. “‘Nutcracker’ can in no event be called a ballet,” one critic opined. “It does not comply with even one of the demands made of a ballet.” Another wrote: ‘The production of such ‘spectacles’ . . . is an insult . . . and may soon easily lead to the ruin of the ballet.'” I always think of those comments when I read reviews today.
Among many other things, tax deductible contributions to TWB have made it possible for over 5,000 DC area students to participate in ballet activities. Some elements of the major donor campaign have included:
The “Beatles Ball” which featured excerpts from the ballet, “Always, No Sometimes”, choreographed by Trey McIntyre and set to a medley of Beatles’ tunes. Over 500 guests attended and $500,000 plus was raised. The sponsor was the Fannie Mae Foundation, but this event was held prior to the government bailout.
Last year the Spring Gala was able to recruit 75 sponsors at $35,000 and two dozen donors of $25,000 and $10,000.
The Washington Ballet’s Jete Society supportS the ballet’s signature education program, DanceDC. All of the cast members from the ballet attend these parties, and it is a fabulous networking opportunity for young people.
“Washingtonian” magazine described the most recent Jete Society event at the French Embassy by saying, “Guests were encouraged not only to dress to impress but also to leave conservative Washington rules behind; the event invitation encouraged them: “Be Wild. Be Sassy. Be Unexpected. Or Stay Home.” Septime Webre introduced the evening’s entertainment by warning, “This is not the ballet!” before a dozen or so scantily clad dancers from the Aaron Jackson Troupe performed an energetic number to Jimmy Jackson’s ‘Fashionista.'”
Amanda McKerrow is the most prestigious alumnus of the Washington School of Ballet. She started with dance lessons in the cafeteria of her elementary school in Rockville, Maryland, became a student of the legendary Mary Day, and retired in 2005 after a 23-year career with the American Ballet Theatre. It was a career which was set ablaze when she made jaws drop throughout the ballet world by winning the gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition in 1981, when she was 17.
UPCOMING STARS — JONATHAN JORDAN
A review of Jonathan Jordan in “Washingtonian” magazine says “It takes more than a perfect quintuple pirouette to make a great ballet dancer. And while Septime Webre lauds 27-year-old Jonathan Jordan’s technique, his intensity as a dramatic artist is what keeps Webre intrigued: ‘I’m very excited to see Jon tackling the part of James, one of the great male romantic roles of the 19th century, in our new production of La Sylphide.’ Jordan, a Silver Spring resident and Phoenix native, credits his teacher Roudolf Kharatian with shaping him as a dancer by introducing him to both martial arts and the great Western philosophers. ‘When he first came to me,’ says Kharatian, a former instructor at the Washington Ballet, ‘I saw this young, energetic man who could not control his energy or his emotion.’ In the studio, they exchange few words, but Jordan—now in his eighth year as a Washington Ballet member—has absorbed Kharatian’s physical and emotional intensity. Two years ago, the relationship deepened when Jordan married Kharatian’s daughter, fellow Washington Ballet dancer Sona Kharatian.
“The Washington Ballet is intimate enough to offer Jordan many opportunities to dance and much variety: ‘I find the joy in anything I get to do, but I definitely feel very close to classical ballet. I think I am a romantic at heart.’ Aside from playing James in La Sylphide, this season Jordan reprises his role—the one originated by Mikhail Baryshnikov—in Mark Morris’s ‘Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes.'”
A TRAGIC LOSS
Mary Saludares of the Washington Ballet Studio Company died on February 20, 2009. She was 20 years old and was struck by a car at 10:07 pm while crossing the street immediately after a performance. Along with other dancers she was on the way to dinner. Mary received the highest Royal Academy of Dance Award, the Solo Seal, in 2006. A native of the Philippines, she at first attended the School of American Ballet in New York. Mary received a full scholarship 18 months ago to the Washington School of Ballet. Because of her obvious talent she was also given a position in TWB’s Studio Company. Mary’s considerable skill and technique at such a young age was recognized in January when she became the first Filipino entry in the Adeline Genee International Ballet Competition. TWB has established a Mary Saludares Memorial Fund.
The Facebook group “We All Love You Mary!!!!” was created by Andy McDandy. It contains 139 photos of the late Mary Saludares with the introduction: “Mary was such a beautiful person, both inside and out. She was so endearing, and full of sunshine and happiness. Mary touched everyone and I cannot think of anything negative to say about her. She was such a sweet person, and a kind soul. May she rest in peace, and in our hearts.”