Arts Desk

The Washington Ballet’s New Season: Not Just Girls in Tutus

The Washington Ballet revealed its 2011-2012 season today, and it looks pretty promising. The lineup includes a program featuring works by Twyla Tharp, a full-length ballet based on Alice in Wonderland, a mixed-repertory program titled ¡Noche Latina!, and another showing of last year’s acclaimed “The Great Gatsby.”

I’ve been impressed with the company over the past few years: artistic director Septime Webre and his colleagues have a sense of dynamism and energy that mesh well with the city’s growing cosmopolitanism. This season’s choices continue in that direction; of course, there’s the inevitable Nutcracker around the end of the year, but all of the other performances promise to break free of the predictable, somnolent, girls-in-tutus image of ballet.

I’m especially excited by the Twyla Tharp program, which will include her classic “Nine Sinatra Songs” and “Waterbaby Bagatelles.” Tharp is generally categorized as a modern dance choreographer, but she relies heavily on ballet technique and vocabulary, and this should be a nice fit for the versatile Washington Ballet. The Alice in Wonderland takeoff, titled “ALICE (in wonderland)” is also intriguing; in the best of all worlds, it’ll be as innovative and vibrant as the Gatsby show was.

What’s smart is that the company isn't trying to compete with the Kennedy Center’s ballet offerings (indeed, much of season will take place there). The Kennedy Center does classical ballet well—but as Washington Post reviewer Sarah Kaufman pointed out last month when that institution’s 2011-2012 season was announced, these days, that’s pretty much the only kind of ballet it does. Which leaves the Washington Ballet quite a bit of freedom to experiment with new ideas and push the boundaries of what exactly defines ballet.

Photo by Brianne Bland

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  • balletomane

    The writer should understand that the hometown D.C. ballet company in its early years was never about tutus and full-length story ballets. It was founded in '76 [?]by Mary Day as a chamber-sized group. She was intent on introducing new choreographers to a genre wedded to the past amid the so-called dance boom. In that vein, Choo San Goh became the company's resident choreographer throughout the '80s and his sleek distillations of neoclassical technique were certainly a breath of fresh air in a tradition-bound art. Perhaps one day the company might realign itself to its founding principles and leave the story ballets for the companies with personnel and cash to do them justice. The tutu legacy was one that Septime Webre brought to the company a decade ago. Mary Day wasn't interested in another "Giselle" or "Corsaire," unlike Webre.

  • Amanda Abrams

    Thanks for this. I appreciate the history and insight.