It’s been quite a time for celebration at the Washington Ballet for artistic director Septime Webre and his company.
The big news came this past week when it was announced that the Washington Ballet would mount its first-ever production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” on April 5. The production marks an even more historic occasion with the presence of star American Ballet Theatre ballerina and celebrity Misty Copeland in the starring roles of Odette/Odile. Copeland, still on the raise to becoming one of America’s most celebrated ballerinas, is only the second African-American ballerina to be promoted to soloist at the American Ballet Theatre.
She’ll be matched with TWB Company dancer Brooklyn Mack, a pre-eminent African-American male dancer.
“The pairing of these two great African-American classical dancers redefines the typical notions of what a ballet dancer should look like, and is a model for where classical ballet is going,” Webre said.
Copeland said, “I am charmed about this pairing for my U.S. debut in 'Swan Lake,' a historic production with two African-American leads who will perform this unique production. It certainly goes against traditional casting and I am incredibly excited to share the stage with Brooklyn Mack.”
Webre said that this production—which the company has never attempted—was about five years in the works. “I knew Misty, but not that well until she did some work with youngsters in Anacostia. Watching her dealing with the kids was amazing. She’s a marvelous dancer, and it’s just amazing to have her for this.”
In addition, “Swan Lake” will also launch a creative collaboration between the Washington Ballet and the S&R Foundation’s Evermay Chamber Orchestra, which will perform the famed Tschaikovsky score. The Evermay Chamber Orchestra is an ensemble of solo-caliber artists from five continents, assembled by the S&R Foundation Washington Award Grand Prize Winner Tamaki Kawakubo.
“We have been leading up to 'Swan Lake' for some time,” Webre said. “We have been slowly and carefully working the classic 19th century repertoire into our company—we did 'Le Sylphides,' 'Don Quixote,' 'Le Corsaire,' and 'Giselle' last year, in which our company excelled so beautifully.”
“It’s a big step forward for us—it requires tremendous resources, of course, a depth of dancers, and I think we’re ready to do so. It’s challenging and it tests everybody, it may be a stretch, but a stretch is what makes dancers and the company better. And it’s wonderful to have Misty be a part of this. It’s totally historic for us. You seize the moment when it comes. This changes how we look at what dancers should be and look like.”
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the company’s staging of Webre’s own production of “The Nutcracker," which has featured George Washington in the form of the Nutcracker prince and a setting of Washington in the mid-19th century.
“This year, there will be some surprises and different thing,” he said. “I’ve never gotten tired of doing this. It’s always fresh and challenging. There’ll be some new party guests—ambassadors of the period, Frederick Douglas. There’ll be cherry blossoms, American clowns, alley cats, Native Americans from Anacostia. We’ll have a fresh crop of bumble bees, and we’ll have different casts—the total number of people involved is 500 or more, many coming from our school.”
This season also marks Webre’s 15th as Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet. “I do think we’ve come a long way. We always move ahead, doing new things, but bringing in as much of classical ballet as we can. 'Swan Lake' and having Misty Copeland with us for it, will mark a significant step forward.”