History of The Washington Ballet

Throughout its 75 year history, The Washington Ballet has steadily progressed as a major force in the dance world and in its community. Important benchmarks, accomplishments, and milestones have contributed to The Washington Ballet of today.

1944 – 1972: Mary Day Establishes TWSB

Mary Day and her mentor Lisa Gardiner establish The Washington School of Ballet in 1944.

In the 1950s, a pre-professional group of dancers train at the School and join together to perform around Washington, DC with the National Symphony Orchestra, National Cathedral, and the DC Recreation department. This group also tours New York, West Virginia, and the Dominican Republic, where the troupe performs with Alicia Alonso.

In 1961, The Washington Ballet premieres Mary Day’s The Nutcracker with the National Symphony Orchestra in DAR Constitution Hall and starts a long-running tradition of delighting audiences during the holidays.

Mary Day observes the teaching methods of the renowned Russian Academy of Ballet on a 1961 visit to the Soviet Union as part of the United States Department Leaders and Specialists Program. Inspired by her travels, Miss Day establishes The Academy of The Washington Ballet, combining dance and academics from 1962 to 1977. Although the academic section of the School closed in 1977, the dance training continues to this day.

For the 1972 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, Miss Day decides to take one of her students, Kevin McKenzie, and he wins the silver medal. Mr. McKenzie is now the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre.

1976 – 2006: 30 Years of Professional Excellence

In 1976, Mary Day starts The Washington Ballet, providing a showcase for the budding young talents of The Washington School of Ballet. The first season consists of three works by an up-and-coming dancer/choreographer from Dutch National Ballet, Choo San Goh, who becomes resident choreographer and later associate artistic director of The Washington Ballet. During his time at The Washington Ballet until his death in 1987, Mr. Goh choreographs 19 ballets for the company.

In 1980, 17-year-old company member Amanda McKerrow is chosen as one of nine dancers to compete on the official US dance team at the Fourth International Ballet Competition in Moscow. She is partnered by Simon Dow and wins the gold medal, becoming the first American to win the competition.

During the 1980s and 1990s, The Washington Ballet continues to grow, performing full seasons in Washington, DC and touring internationally to China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia, Spain, South America and more.

In 1999, Septime Webre joins The Washington Ballet as the Artistic Director and steers the Company towards new opportunities, expanding the repertoire and broadening the Company’s scope. Mr. Webre initiates DanceDC, The Washington Ballet’s partnership with the DC Public School system, providing community engagement and education incorporating dance and arts education.

In 2000, Mr. Webre leads The Washington Ballet on an historic tour of Havana, Cuba, making it the first American ballet company to perform in Cuba since 1960.

Ms. Day announces her retirement as head of the school in 2003 and in August 2004, Rebecca Wright, former soloist with the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, becomes the Director of The Washington School of Ballet and serves until her untimely death in January 2006.

In 2004, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre’s new production of The Nutcracker, set in historic Washington, DC, to much acclaim.

In 2005, The Washington Ballet and The Washington School of Ballet partner with Building Bridges Across the River and THEARC, a joint-use facility that delivers first-rate programs and services of culture, health, recreation and human development organizations to residents east of the Anacostia River. The Washington School of Ballet starts its first programming there in the Summer of 2005.

In 2006, Mary Day passes away in July, leaving a large and meaningful legacy on the institution and the dance world at large.

2007 – 2015: Septime Webre Takes TWB International

In 2007, Kee Juan Han is appointed Director of The Washington School of Ballet, ushering in a new era of energy and excitement to the training program of The Washington School of Ballet.

In 2010, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre’s The Great Gatsby continuing the tradition of re-staging great works.

In 2011, The Washington Ballet tours to Turkey to participate in the 9th International Bodrum Ballet Festival.

In 2012, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre’s ALICE (in wonderland).

In 2013, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre’s Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises as part of The Washington Ballet’s “The American Experience” series, a multi-year initiative to produce a series of ballets based on iconic American literature, art and music to further develop the Company’s uniquely American choreographic voice.

In 2014, Company Dancer Tamás Krizsa choreographs and performs a world premiere of Together Apart to sold-out Tour-de-Force audiences. The Washington Ballet celebrates 10 years of Septime Webre’s The Nutcracker. It also showcases modern ballet choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon, Hans van Manen, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Trey McIntyre, Jiří Kylián, Christopher Bruce, Edwaard Liang, Choo San Goh, and Elaine Kudo in its variety of productions.

In 2015, The Washington Ballet performed Swan Lake for the first time in the organization’s 70-year history. An historic Odette/Odile and Siegfried casting of Misty Copeland, a visiting guest artist from American Ballet Theatre, and TWB’s Brooklyn Mack marked the first African-American pairing of these featured roles in this full-length ballet. Audiences experienced the third installation of The Washington Ballet’s ongoing “The American Experience” series with the world premiere of Septime Webre’s Sleepy Hollow based on Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), America’s first great ghost story.

2016 – 2022: Julie Kent Elevates Artistic Expression

In 2016, Julie Kent was appointed to the position of artistic director. Also, Victor Barbee was appointed as associate artistic director; Xiomara Reyes was appointed as Head of School.

In 2023, Edwaard Liang’s appointment as the incoming Artistic Director was announced, following his successful 10-year tenure at BalletMet in Ohio.

In 2024, Trinidad Vives returns to The Washington Ballet (TWB) as School Director, following her impactful stint as Acting Artistic Director in 2023.


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The Washington Ballet
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