The KC and ABT: Nearly 50 Years Together!

  Music Director Ormsby Wilkins

Music Director Ormsby Wilkins

  Principal Conductor Charles Barker

Principal Conductor Charles Barker

Our recent outing with American Ballet Theatre got us thinking about the long-standing relationship between the company and our capitol city’s arts center. ABT is arguably one of the finest classical ballet companies in the nation, indeed, the world. It presents an annual season at the Metropolitan Opera House, and tours both nationally and internationally. So many luminaries of the dance world have been closely associated with the company: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Antony Tudor, Julie Kent, Gelsey Kirkland, George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Nina Ananiashvili, and of course, today’s ballet superstar Misty Copeland. The artistic team of Kevin McKenzie (Artistic Director) and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky are currently at the helm of the company.

According to Meg Booth, Director of Dance Programming at the Kennedy Center, ABT has made an annual appearance here every year since the Center was opened in 1971, and is the only ballet company that can make that claim. Principal Conductor Charles Barker recalls, “When I joined the company in 1987 they were still talking about the Kennedy Center as ABT's second home,” and Music Director Ormsby Wilkins concurs that “ABT once performed in DC much more than it does now.” Additionally, the company now does far less touring than it used to, due in part to what Ormsby terms “the prohibitive economics of touring.” Barker recalls, “I began my career with ABT with a 12-week, 6-city tour. Those days are long gone.”

Many of our more senior colleagues recall the constant presence of ABT at the Center. A violinist writes, “When the KC opened, they had a resident ballet company and it was ABT. They were in the habit of coming for 4 weeks in December and 3 weeks in the spring. Normally, they did most of their seasonal repertoire during that 7 weeks. December always began with 2 weeks of mixed repertoire and then went into two weeks of Nutcracker. The spring season was a combination of full-length ballets and mixed repertoire programs.” Additionally, she remarks, many other visiting ballet companies would stay for anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. The orchestra frequently played 14 to 15 weeks of ballet during a typical season. Long-standing members of the KCOHO speak with a mixture of nostalgia and wry humor as they recall the extremely grueling schedule those back-to-back, 13-service ballet weeks would bring.

Given the choice though, most would be thrilled to see such a rich ballet season at the nation’s arts center once more. We remain optimistic that superstars like Misty Copeland, and inventive, dazzling new productions like ABT’s Whipped Cream will help spark a renaissance of ballet here in DC. Are there any balletomanes among our readers? Tell us your thoughts! Next time you come out to see ballet at the Kennedy Center, or anywhere, bring a friend who is new to it! (Hint: New York City Ballet is bringing 2 great programs to the Opera House at the end of March!) If you’re local, send us a message via our website. We may be able to hook you up with a great ticket offer once in a while. And don’t forget to come down to the pit and say hello!