After six years as artistic director, Julie Kent is leaving the Washington Ballet at the end of the 2022-2023 season, the company announced Friday. In July, Kent will become an artistic director at the Houston Ballet, sharing the leadership role with artistic director Stanton Welch.Get the full experience.Choose your planArrowRight
“The Washington Ballet will always have a special place in my heart. It is where I found my voice as an artistic director,” Kent said in a statement, adding that she is “thrilled to join a new family in Houston and hopeful for all that lies ahead.” Neither Kent nor Washington Ballet board chair Jean-Marie Fernandez were available for comment on Friday. In a statement, Fernandez praised Kent and her leadership as “nothing short of transformational.”
Kent was a celebrated former ballerina with American Ballet Theatre and an international ballet star when she took the helm of the Washington Ballet. But she had never run a dance company, and she faced challenges in her efforts to rebrand the organization. She replaced the quirky high-energy original works by former director-choreographer Septime Webre with a more traditional repertoire. (The company still performs Webre’s popular Washington-themed version of “The Nutcracker.”)
Kent and her husband, Victor Barbee, who is the Washington Ballet’s associate artistic director, hired many new company members and developed the dancers into elegant interpreters of such classic works as “Swan Lake” and “Giselle.” But some programs struggled to attract audiences, such as offerings of short standard pieces and new works by little-known choreographers.
Kent “felt like it was the right time to be looking forward,” said Michelle Pendoley, a spokeswoman for the Washington Ballet. “She is really excited for Houston, and for the Washington Ballet.”
The board has begun an international search for her successor, the Washington Ballet said in a news release. Pendoley said she did not know whether Barbee, who is also leaving the Washington Ballet at the end of this season and moving to Houston with Kent, will have a role with Houston Ballet.
“I have greatly admired Stanton and his brilliant work for more than 20 years,” Kent said in a statement released by the Houston Ballet, “and I am deeply excited to partner with him in launching an exhilarating next chapter.”