Shakespeare Theatre hosts Washington Ballet’s ‘Contemporary Masters’ in DC

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Julie Kent & Rafael Bejarano (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — The Washington Ballet’s fall season is in full swing in the nation’s capital, as Shakespeare Theatre Company hosts “Contemporary Masters” this Wednesday to Sunday.

“Put your screen down and come watch the curtain rise!” artistic director Julie Kent told WTOP. “It’s a really beautiful program to showcase the spectrum of these choreographers and also our incredibly talented company. We start the evening with pointe shoes, then (continue with) bare feet and finish with soft shoes with a small heel that reflect pedestrian footwear.”

The collection marks a shift toward contemporary American works.

“Last year, we focused a lot on Russian masters, John Cranko, Frederick Ashton, (George) Balanchine, Jerome Robbins,” Kent said. “This year, we want to dedicate a program to American modern dance masters and celebrate and introduce to our dancers and audience the impact that these choreographers had on the whole trajectory of dance in this country.”

The program features three separate works:

The program starts with “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” with choreography by Mark Morris and music by Virgil Thomson based on a 1616 English poem about ethereal love.

“It’s a poem from the 17th century that inspires this work, but I just love saying it!” Kent joked.

It continues with “Duets” by choreographer Merce Cunningham with music by John Cage.

“”Duets’ is a little jewel,” Kent said. “This is the centennial anniversary of Cunningham’s birth, so we’re part of a worldwide celebration of his work. … His approach to dance was that it really existed in time and space on its own, that music existed in one parallel plane and dance in the other. So while they’re both coexisting in the performance, really they’re unrelated. So it’s a really fascinating, joyful experience to watch because it’s almost like the divinity in math.”

It wraps with “Company B” choreographed by Paul Taylor with music by the Andrews Sisters.

“It’s this invincible optimism of the U.S. in the ’40s, but there’s also the dark side and tragedy of the realities of war,” Kent said. “Light and dark play off each other, so it’s very thoughtful and joyful, but at the same time it’s not one-dimensional. Like most of Mr. Taylor’s work, it’s extremely athletic, demanding and takes the dancers to a whole other level of exhaustion.”

Why should audiences come out?

“You’ll experience something you never have experienced before, you’ll be moved and you’ll understand what it means to be human,” Kent said. “That’s really the role of what art is supposed to play in civilization. So put your screen down and come watch the curtain rise.”

Find more details on the Washington Ballet website. Hear our full conversation below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Julie Kent & Rafael Bejarano (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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