- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Kennedy Center, which has raised unusual programming to a high art, is about to unveil one of its more offbeat ventures: bringing young dancers from some of the world’s greatest dance academies to appear in tandem on a program.

The Proteges festival can be seen as an unprecedented chance to see ballet’s iconic moments performed by dancers steeped in that tradition and to see some of the world’s most talented students at their purest and most pristine as they stand at the threshold of their careers.

Also included are a few contemporary works, perhaps to bring a little spice or contrast to the mix.

Whether this coalesces into a coherent experience we’ll soon find out.

What’s certain is that dance lovers who are feeling adventurous and betting on the Kennedy Center’s impressive track record are in for something different as six worldwide ballet academies perform every night.

Three of them come trailing clouds of glory from their 18th- and 19th-century roots: the Paris Opera Ballet School, founded in 1713 by Louis XIV; the famed Kirov Ballet’s Vaganova School, founded in St. Petersburg in 1738; and the Royal Danish Ballet School, founded in the 1770s and blossoming in the 1800s under August Bournonville.

These three are followed by the Royal Ballet School, founded in the 1920s in London by the formidable Ninette de Valois.

These four have produced an awesome collection of dancers — beginning in the Paris school with Marie Taglioni in the 1800s and extending to Sylvie Guillem today; from St. Petersburg, such luminaries as Anna Pavlova, George Balanchine, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov; from the small country of Denmark, where Bournonville training has produced an astounding number of great male dancers, including Erik Bruhn, Peter Martins and Nikolaj Hubbe; and from England, Margot Fonteyn, Antoinette Sibley, Anthony Dowell and Darcey Bussell.

Striking by its absence from this list is the pre-eminent ballet academy in this country: George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet (SAB), which has produced a majority of this country’s great dancers, including Maria Tallchief, Jacques d’Amboise, Edward Villella and Suzanne Farrell — all in the New York City Ballet — and has supplied leading dancers to most of this country’s other major companies. SAB was invited but for some reason did not accept.

Another SAB alumnus is Arthur Mitchell, who went on to co-found, in 1969, the Dance Theatre of Harlem School. The school and its company have been in financial stress, and DTH has suspended annual visits to Washington. The Harlem school’s performance will be a welcome chance to see its current crop of aspirants.

The sixth international group definitely is the youngest: New National Theater of Tokyo Young Artists Training Program is not quite five years old. Its school, the company and the choreography it is bringing are all by Maki Asami.

The programs include important works that define each group’s style. Especially promising are the English dancers in Frederick Ashton’s “A Ballet Offering,” a gala piece created for the Royal Ballet’s 25th anniversary and now being danced 25 years later.

Other highlights include a Bournonville feast brought by the Danes, including excerpts from his “Flower Festival in Genzano” and “Napoli”; the first movement of Mr. Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco,” danced by the Harlem school; and two Russian graduates (not students like the others) in the “Nutcracker” pas de deux.

New works are part of the program as well. The Paris school, bringing a generous 42 students here, will dance two newly created pieces by Jean-Guillaume Bart and Jose Martinez that are designed to show its historic roots and distinctive style; the Harlem group will perform Billy Wilson’s “Ginastera”; and on some programs, the Danes will dance a modern work by Adria Ferrali.

WHAT: Proteges: International Ballet Academy Festival with young dancers from six countries performing.

WHEN: Tonight through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $19 to $60

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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