- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

Michele Jimenez is back — this time as a guest artist — in a flying visit to dance two stunning vignettes in the Washington Ballet’s program running through this weekend at the new Sidney Harman Hall.

The change has been dramatic and her success there equally so, but probably no more astounding than her trajectory across the Washington scene. At the time of her departure, I noted that our city had never seen a dancer of such quality performing here for such a length of time.

This week, Miss Jimenez is back — this time as a guest artist — in a flying visit to dance two stunning vignettes in the Washington Ballet’s program running through this weekend at the new Sidney Harman Hall. She hopes her schedule will allow more appearances with the company in the future.

When she first arrived in Washington at age 19 to enter Mary Day’s Washington School of Ballet, Miss Jimenez already had had years of Cuban-style classical training while growing up in the Dominican Republic.

Soon after Miss Day cast her as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker,” Septime Webre, then the new director of the Washington Ballet, offered her a slot as apprentice in the company. Her career took off. She became known as “Septime’s muse.”

“She was a young girl brimming with talent and promise,” Mr. Webre remembers.

He saw potential but only came to realize its depth as he worked with her. “I knew Michele was talented, but I didn’t know how far she’d take it,” he says. “To have her, just one season later, really handling the depth and nuances in a full-length title role like Juliet from little girl to passionate lover to mature woman was testament to how she could meet challenges.

“It’s been exciting to see the performances deepen and become more resonant, going on to Titania and Giselle and Balanchine works which were new to her,” he continues, “and then tackling William Forsythe with great abandon. Add to that her generosity of spirit and her sense of play, which is in fact a sense of investigation.”

Besides her central role at the Washington Ballet, Miss Jimenez has been dancing in the summer company of Trey McIntyre, who frequently creates work for the Washington company. The McIntyre Project has appeared at Wolf Trap the past two years.

Mr. McIntyre is another choreographer-director taken with what Miss Jimenez brings to the rehearsal process and the stage. “She is quite simply one of the best dancers I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “She gives everything she has, whether it’s her complete physicality or her incredible reserve of emotional depth.”

One of the roles Miss Jimenez is performing here this week, a duet she dances with Jared Nelson — “That’s Life,” created by Twyla Tharp for “Nine Sinatra Songs” —is a part she learned two years ago and never danced.

“That’s when my mom was very ill and passed away, so I wasn’t able to perform it,” the dancer says. “I associate it with a very sad moment; there’s a lot of emotion, so it’s nice to be doing it now with good friends around.”

Soon after making her move to the Dutch National Ballet, Miss Jimenez danced the title role in “Carmen” by the company’s artistic director, Ted Brandsen, and won the prestigious Swan award for it. The citation read, “She interprets the drama with strong technique and passion, drawing the viewer into the story.”

This writer saw Miss Jimenez in action last spring during a visit to Amsterdam. As usual, the dancer was spending almost every waking moment in the theater. These marathon days are possible, she notes, because of DNB’s lavish resources — a canteen on the premises stocked with good food at attractive prices, rooms in which to rest, others available for checking e-mail, and the handsome theater right around the corner.

In spite of having more than her share of injuries during her time with the Dutch National Ballet, she has danced a range of roles, including Hans van Manen’s intense, haunting “Hammerklavier,” the Bluebird Pas de Deux from “Sleeping Beauty” and Mark Morris’ “Sandpaper Ballet.”

After weekend performances here, she flies back to Amsterdam to dance the plucky heroine, Swanhilda, in Mr. Brandsen’s new version of the brightly comic “Coppelia.”

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