History of TWSB
The Washington Ballet has contributed to the cultural fabric and artistic dynamic of the nation’s capital; evolving from a small ballet school in northwest DC neighborhood to a world-class, internationally recognized professional ballet company. The Washington School of Ballet and its community engagement programs continue to provide dance instruction and education to DC and area residents, to introduce thousands of children to the magic and beauty of dance through performances of The Nutcracker and other company repertoire at world-renowned theaters including The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
It all started in 1944 when dance pioneer Mary Day and her former teacher Lisa Gardiner founded The Washington School of Ballet. The acclaimed school quickly became known for its outstanding training and later attracted students who would become world-famous dancers; including Amanda McKerrow, who in 1982 at age 17, became the first American to win the Gold Medal at the prestigious Moscow Ballet Competition and Kevin McKenzie, who became a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and in 1992 was named that company’s artistic director. Virginia Johnson, who began her dance training at The Washington School of Ballet had a 40-year career and is now the artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Other notable alumni include Chelsea Clinton and actresses Shirley MacLaine and the late Georgia Engel.
In 1976, Mary Day founded The Washington Ballet as a professional company in part to provide performance opportunities for its many talented students. In 1999, Septime Webre took the helm as artistic director and established community outreach programs DanceDC, the EXCEL! Scholarship program, and The Washington Ballet’s southeast campus at THEARC. During his 17-year tenure, the company and the school realized tremendous growth and community support. Webre developed several famous literary works into full-length ballets including, The Great Gatsby, ALICE (in wonderland), and The Nutcracker. In the Fall of 2007, Kee Juan Han joined TWB as school director of The Washington School of Ballet.
In July 2016, Julie Kent became artistic director of The Washington Ballet, bringing with her Xiomara Reyes as Head of School for The Washington Ballet.
Kent enjoyed a stellar 30-year career at American Ballet Theatre and remains the longest-serving ballerina in the company’s 80-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 American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet.
Kent starred in the Herbert Ross film ‘Dancers’ in 1987 opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov. She was appointed Soloist with American Ballet Theatre in 1990 and Principal Dancer in 1993, the year she won the Erik Bruhn Prize in Toronto and was named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” In April 2000, Kent became the first American woman ever to win the prestigious “Prix Benois de la Danse.” Later that year, Kent starred in the motion picture ‘Center Stage’ directed by Nicolas Hytner. In 2012, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of North Carolina School for the Arts as well as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from Dance Magazine.
In 2023, American arts leader and acclaimed choreographer Edwaard Liang became the new Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet. He is only the fourth person, and first person of color, to lead the organization. He is also the first Asian American to lead a major American ballet company.
Over the past 20 years, Liang’s works have been performed by dance companies worldwide, including New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Shanghai Ballet, and The Washington Ballet, among others. In 2017, he received an Emmy® Award for his short dance film, “Vaulted.” In 2018, he created a new ballet with Roberto Bolle for the opening of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
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