Thursday, November 8, 2001

The Washington Ballet’s opening night at the Kennedy Center last Thursday was a celebration of the company’s 25th anniversary season and a tribute to its young Artistic Director Septime Webre. By all accounts, the ballet has been transformed by Mr. Webre’s quirky vision and oft-remarked-upon energy in the two years since he took the helm.
The elegant evening began with a public performance in the Eisenhower Theater of two masterpieces from the company’s repertoire. The first was a modernist piece that originated with choreographer George Balanchine, called “The Four Temperaments.” It was followed by “In the Glow of the Night,” a symbolic dance that, according to Mr. Webre, is meant to represent “birth, death and rebirth.” Both were overshadowed by the final piece a sexy, gorgeous version of “Carmen,” the story of a passionate Gypsy woman in early-20th-century Spain who meets a tragic end in her lover’s arms.
Mr. Webre’s “Carmen” with its elaborate Picassoesque sets and exquisite costumes was the talk of the almost 170 guests who had paid $250 and more for the post-performance black-tie dinner in the Roof Terrace Restaurant.
Kay Kendall , president of the ballet’s board of directors, said the company has evolved dramatically since she joined the board 18 years ago, and certainly since Mr. Webre’s arrival. “Theres a new generation of choreographers who are defining ballet today,” she said, “and we have one of them.”
When asked how the Washington Ballet has changed in the past quarter-century, the company’s founder, Mary Day , said, “It’s much more energetic. I feel rather exhausted.”
Mr. Webre, who has been with the Washington Ballet since 1999, was openly delighted with the success of his dramatic season opener.
“I clicked my heels with pleasure,” he said, glowing.
On Mr. Webre’s agenda for the rest of the season are such works as “Blue Until June,” which is being billed as “a high-energy ballet” with “songs made famous by blues diva Etta James.” In May he’ll premiere “Where the Wild Things Are,” based on the book by Maurice Sendak, who is working with Mr. Webre on the project (a shrewd attempt to draw younger audiences to the ballet).
The late-night dinner baby spinach soup followed by pan-roasted cod with a unique lobster bread pudding, and a dessert of orange mousse and anise cookies was sponsored by Spanish Ambassador Javier Ruperez and his wife, Rakela Cerovic . Guests included Finlay Lewis , Bill and Dorothy McSweeny , Colombian Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno and former FBI Director William Sessions with his wife, Alice .
The event’s chairwoman was a very blond Deborah Stark Sigmund , who pointed to local mogul Jim Kimsey as one of the evening’s most generous sponsors (along with U.S. Technologies Inc. and Morris Reid ).
“Well, they heckled me into doing this,” Mr. Kimsey joked, adding, “No, its great to support the arts in Washington because I was here when they didn’t have any.”
Mr. Kimsey’s table guests included Queen Noor of Jordan and the star of “Carmen,” a petite 22-year-old dancer from the Domincan Republic named Michele Jimenez who without her sassy costume looked more like a sweet 16-year-old than the femme fatale she had played an hour earlier. She said shyly that working with Mr. Webre has been “very special. Every day is an adventure.”
Alice Sessions noted that the man of the hour had come a long way, and she should know: Her daughter Sara, who has just retired from the San Francisco Ballet after 13 years, was in ballet class with Mr. Webre when they were children in Austin, Texas.
“He was just learning to dance,” Mrs. Sessions marveled. “So I’m amazed and delighted at what he’s done.”

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