- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Septime Webre’s world premiere of “Cinderella” next week at the Kennedy Center is an indication of the stirring way he has moved the Washington Ballet forward since becoming its artistic director four years ago.

This production of “Cinderella” is remarkably lavish for the small company of 20, with charmingly imaginative and witty costumes by Judanna Lynn, who has designed for many major dance companies, including American Ballet Theatre.

The goal is to create an opulence befitting a full-length ballet through the magic of Ms. Lynn’s 81 costumes, the allure of Sergei Prokofiev’s powerful score, the appealing and familiar fairy tale, and Mr. Webre’s clever deployment of his resources.

“‘Cinderella’ utilizes the forces of the three major wings of our organization,” the director says. “Predominantly our professional company, but also dancers from the Washington School of the Ballet and from Dance DC, all unified in one ballet.”

When Cinderella’s stepsisters sweep off to the ball, she is left behind in the garden and Mr. Webre, seizing on this scene, has filled it with all manner of creatures big and little.

Watching the talented neophyte dancers who were so successful in the annual “Nutcracker,” inspired the director to make more use of them.

“I saw a lot of funny, performance-savvy ruffian-style boys in ‘Nutcracker’ and found places for them as footmen, violinists and assistants to the wig masters.

“I’ve also taken 10 boys from Dance DC, our flagship outreach program, to play bumblebees in the garden scene. We have multiple casts, so at each performance four of these young boys are delightful little bumblebees. Dance DC is for both boys and girls, but since ballet training is so often associated with girls, it seemed a good time to give the boys a little spotlight.”

These bumblebees are not your ordinary garden-variety yellow and black striped bees, but sport fluffy stripes in every color of the rainbow. They promise to be scene stealers.

In addition to the fairy godmother and the fairies of the four seasons that are spelled out in the score and appear in every version of the “Cinderella” ballet, Mr. Webre has peopled his garden scene with a bevy of other fanciful creatures.

“The fairies are accompanied by four dragonflies, adult men, and we have the bees, we have little putti in the garden drawn from the idea of classical sculpture in a formal French garden, we have the butterflies and a corps de ballet of eight roses. So the garden scene is a major set piece.”

Like most arts organizations, the Washington Ballet is facing a leaner fiscal picture ahead and Mr. Webre, his natural ebullience undiminished, is finding ingenious, creative ways to meet that challenge. In the case of “Cinderella,” he gave up building the sets that had been designed for his production and instead rented from North Carolina Dance Theater a new set that had been designed by Alan Vaes, a distinguished stage designer.

“The set happened to be very compatible with the costumes and with my concept,” he says. “Alan Vaes actually is a designer I had considered for this production, but dismissed the idea because he was too expensive. Ironically, by renting his set we’ve saved $90,000 over building our own.”

Until these leaner times, the Washington Ballet had been on a swift upward trajectory. When Mr. Webre arrived four years ago, the company had an annual budget of $3.2 million and about 750 subscribers. This season the budget is $5.5 million, and subscriptions are mounting to 3,000. A week at the Kennedy Center used to gross between $50,000 and $75,000. “Cinderella” is expected to gross $325,000 next week.

For next year, though, the company’s budget will be cut a half million to $5 million.

The challenge of maintaining the company’s growth under this reduction of resources has clearly stimulated Mr. Webre to think creatively and boldly. Determined to attract and support high-quality dancers, for example, he is increasing his dancers’ salary level next year, although he has simultaneously had to cut their contract by three weeks.

He has acquired a distinguished addition to his staff: Jeffrey Edwards, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and a fellow this year at the Vilar Institute for Arts Management at the Kennedy Center, will join the company during its rehearsal and performance season as artistic associate.

While he is in residence Mr. Edwards will teach company class, act as a ballet master and stage some ballets for the company. He will also assume responsibility for developing a repertoire for a group of six pre-professional dancers from the Washington School of Ballet who will perform locally, augment the company’s larger productions, and eventually officially become Washington Ballet II.

When it came to next season’s programming, Mr. Webre’s financial constraints stimulated him to think outside the box. One idea was to scuttle the children’s program he’s done every year at the high-rent Warner Theatre (the company will still perform “Nutcracker” there) and instead create a new performing space.

“Theo Adamstein, a distinguished architect who’s created some of the most hip new restaurants in town, has agreed to design pro bono a new theater for us that will feel chic,” Mr. Webre says. “He will convert our large studio on Wisconsin Avenue into a 100-seat cabaret theater, and I have asked seven illustrious choreographers to each make a seven minute work on the theme of love.”

The choreographers for the program Mr. Webre calls “7 by 7” will be Trey McIntyre, Lila York, Donald Byrd, Albert Evans, Vladimir Angelov, Stephen Mills and Jason Hartley, a leading dancer in the company.

“I had several goals for our season,” Mr. Webre explains. “I wanted to acquire some major masterworks the dancers could sink their teeth into. I wanted to create some new work myself. I wanted to provide some programming that would help sell tickets — I’m not shy about saying that. I wanted to tackle, for the first time, a 19th century full-length ballet. I wanted to commission a lot of new work. And our season does all that.”

The fall season will include William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” It is an aerobic workout that Mr. Webre calls “a shocker of a ballet” when it premiered in the ‘80s. “But I think now it’s entered the ballet canon as a masterwork,” he says.

Mr. Webre will create a world premiere, quite possibly his own take on the Diaghilev-era “Firebird.” The late Choo-san Goh’s “Momentum” will complete the program.

After its annual “Nutcracker” at the Warner Theatre, the Washington Ballet will open its winter season in January on the exact 100th anniversary of George Balanchine’s birth with an all-Balanchine program. Included will be “Four Temperaments,” Balanchine’s lyrical pas de deux, “Sonatine,” and the enchanting first act of his “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Then the company will tackle its first 19th century classic, the romantic comedy “Coppelia,” before ending the season with its program of world premieres, “7 by 7.”

WHAT: The Washington Ballet in “Cinderella”

WHEN: This Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m., next Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

TICKETS: $29 to $75

PHONE: 202/467-4600

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide