Julie Kent leapt her way into the spotlight at the tender age of 16, when she began dancing with the American Ballet Theatre in New York City. There, the great Mikhail Baryshnikov spotted the lithe Bethesda, Maryland, teen, changed her last name from Cox to Kent and wooed her in the romantic film “Dancers.” From that auspicious debut, Kent went on to enjoy a long and illustrious career with ABT, taking a flower-filled last bow during a 23-minute ovation in 2015. But her “retirement” proved to be just an intermission. Last year, Kent came home to head up The Washington Ballet as one of few women leaders in the field and quickly embarked on an ambitious new program. In between hiring dancers and conducting rehearsals, Kent took a few moments to chat with Where about her new role.
How has the D.C. area changed since you last lived here in the mid-’80s?
My ballet home in Bethesda (Academy of the Maryland Youth Ballet) was demolished about 10 years ago and replaced with a high-rise condo—sleek but certainly a huge change from the small-town, two-story feel of Bethesda. But from Rockville Pike, the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where I was born, looks just the same!
As you start your second season with TWB, can you tell us about the direction in which you’re taking the company?
My hopes include expanding the repertoire, incorporating live musical accompaniment to all of our performances (a given in any great ballet company), maintaining dedication to arts education through our renowned school (nearing its 75th anniversary) and building a national and international reputation of excellence that we should expect in our capital city.
What do you like the most about your job?
There are many great and meaningful rewards—bringing the beauty of our art to our audience, shaping the lives of our young students, building relationships within our community, contributing to the artistic landscape of our nation’s capital. But for me, at the top is watching the dancers fulfill and surpass their potential and experience moments in the studio and on the stage that will impact the rest of their lives.
Do you have any pre-performance rituals you do with the company?
Nope. Early in my career I thought it unwise to start any pre-performance ritual that I didn’t think I could sustain for many years. (I was right!)
When you and your husband, Victor Barbee, want a special night out, where do you go?
Honestly, we love to stay at home. (Victor is a great cook!) So dinner almost always includes our children. But Fiola Mare and Fig & Olive are chic, elegant and delicious, and Barcelona, Raku, The Grilled Oyster Company, La Piquette, Cactus Cantina and Cafe Deluxe are great neighborhood restaurants that we really enjoy.
When you travel, what’s the first thing you do at your destination?
The answer all depends on the reason for the travel. For work, the first thing is finding a water source. And then finding CNN or BBC (or any channel in English) on TV.
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be and why?
A peaceful place with food, shelter and my family.