Q&A: Washington Ballet presents ‘TWB Welcomes’ program at Kennedy Center

The Washington Ballet dances "Bolero." (Dean Alexander)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'TWB Welcomes' at Kennedy Center (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — A brand-new Washington Ballet season is upon us in the nation’s capital.

The Kennedy Center presents “TWB Welcomes” with seven shows Wednesday to Sunday.

“It’s going to be a feast,” artistic director Julie Kent told WTOP. “It’s a beautiful mixed repertoire with past season highlights and some added pas de deux to showcase the depth and thrilling virtuosity of our talented young dancers. It’s called ‘TWB Welcomes’ because we’re welcoming four internationally celebrated guest artists. We’re also welcoming the entire D.C. community to support our company and invest and discover our beautiful dancers in a whole new way.”

The event features two separate programs depending on which night you attend.

Program A: “Exquisite and Exotic” features George Balanchine’s “Serenade” and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Bolero” on Wednesday night, Thursday night, Saturday night and Sunday night.

“Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ is the first ballet he choreographed when he came to the United States,” Kent said. “It’s a masterpiece. We did (it) last year. It’s absolutely beautiful. Then we will close that program with ‘Bolero.’ That made our company debut a year ago.”

Program B: “Ethereal and Evocative” features Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides” and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “SOMBRERISIMO” on Friday night, Saturday matinee and Sunday matinee.

“‘Les Sylphides’ also made its premiere with the company last season. It’s from 1909. It’s a romantic reverie and a very, very beautiful ballet of the early 20th century,” Kent said. “Then we close with ‘SOMBRERISIMO,’ which is a real showcase for six men, bowler hats, Latino music. It shows the real spectrum of what our company can dance at such a high level.”

Both programs will also feature three bonus pas de deux numbers, including Marius Petipas’ “Swan Lake,” Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas” and George Balanchine’s “Tarantella.”

“I’ll be dancing Act III of ‘Swan Lake,’ the Black Swan, as well as ‘Tarantella,'” guest dancer Katherine Barkman told WTOP. “‘Black Swan’ and “Tarantella’ are polar opposites. They’re both thrilling and exciting, but the ‘Black Swan’ is more slow and seductive, while ‘Tarantella’ is kind of just a playground on stage. ‘Tarantella’ is quite speedy, which has been a challenge.”

Barkman grew up near Philadelphia before joining Ballet Manila in the Philippines.

“Julie has given me the amazing opportunity to join the company,” Barkman said. “It’s kind of a homecoming. At (age) 18, after training with a Russian coach in Pennsylvania, I was offered the opportunity to join the company in Manila as a principal. So I jumped at it and I traveled halfway around the world and spent the past three years learning repertoire I may not have learned in another venue. I recently saw Julie at the Jackson International Ballet Competition.”

“Where she won a Silver Medal,” Kent chimed in with pride.

Barkman will be dancing with fellow guest artist Rolando Sarabia.

“I’m going to be dancing ‘Black Swan’ with this beautiful lady here (as) the prince,” Sarabia told WTOP. “I’m excited to dance with her and look forward to working hard every day for many, many hours, trying to get the right style and get better, better and better, every day. I’m so excited to dance ‘Swan Lake,’ one of the most famous dances in the history of ballet.”

Sarabia makes his way here from his native Havana, Cuba.

“I started dancing when I was 5 years old; as a professional I have already 20 years,” Sarabia said. “I went to Mexico, I crossed the border (and) then I get here. I’m very happy for the opportunity that the country gave me. … Now to be part of the company … is a blessing.”

This welcoming spirit is the entire point of “TWB Welcomes.”

“As the ballet company of the nation’s capital, part of our role is to play host to wonderful dancers from around the world,” Kent said. “It’s a very inspiring experience to share the stage with dancers from other companies that will bring to the collaboration their own experience and talent. It’s a really exciting program, it’s challenging, it shows the real spectrum in dance.”

Find more details on the Kennedy Center website. Listen to our full conversation below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with cast of 'TWB Welcomes' (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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