Witness ballet in its purest form when rising stars from some of the world's greatest ballet academies converge on the Kennedy Center Opera House January 26-29 for a dramatic showcase of talent in Protégés: The International Ballet Academy Festival. The energy and raw talent of this new generation of dancers will bring fresh insight into classical works. Each night's program will highlight all six academies' distinctive styles of training and provide a tantalizing glimpse into the future of ballet.
The participating academies include Dance Theatre of Harlem School, New National Theater of Japan Young Artists Training Program, Paris Opera Ballet School, The Royal Ballet School, and Royal Danish Ballet School, plus two recent graduates of the Vaganova Ballet Academy (Kirov Ballet). Whether training students for the past 300 years or just 30 years, these institutions have produced generations of ballet stars and ensured the preservation of their artistic legacies.
Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, the Dance Theatre of Harlem School quickly emerged as a leading arts education center and an accredited dance training institute. From an initial enrollment of just 30 students, DTHS has grown to more than 700 students per year, and developed a varied curriculum that, in addition to ballet and tap, has included modern, jazz, and African dance, gymnastics, karate, tai chi, and even Irish step dancing.
The New National Theatre of Japan's Young Artists Training Program has been invited to showcase new directions for ballet in Asia. In recent years, a spectacular generation of Japanese dancers has been appearing on worldwide stages. The New National Theatre's program, one of the most visible in Asia, represents the strong training now coming from the continent. It is also connected to the Tokyo Ballet, one of Japan's newest and most technically adept ballet troupes.
The Paris Opera Ballet School is the oldest of its kind in the world. Almost 300 years after its creation by Louis XIV in 1713, its most advanced students still carry the marks of the 17th-century ballet de cour, whose mission was to display the power of royalty. The Ballet and its school still maintain values such as discipline and hierarchy, while favoring elegant dancing. They will present two works by the Ballet's étoiles (principal dancers), Scaramouche and Péchés de Jeunesse. Scaramouche, a large group work for 42 pupils of the fifth and sixth levels (ages 12 to 14) as a showcase for the full range of the students' theatrical and dance training, is created by José Martinez and set to music by Darius Milhaud. The pas de deux from Jean-Guillaume Bart's Péchés de Jeunesse to music by Rossini is marked with delicate lower-leg work, subtle arm movement, and quiet shoulders.
The founding of what would become The Royal Ballet School came in 1926, when Dame Ninette de Valois opened her Academy of Choreographic Art. The leading classical ballet school in the United Kingdom, it is an international institution that attracts the very best ballet students worldwide. Dancers will perform excerpts from Sir Frederick Ashton's A Birthday Offering, which he created to celebrate the 25th birthday of the Royal Ballet. Former Royal Ballet School students who went on to reach the pinnacles of the ballet world include Dame Margot Fonteyn, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Sir Anthony Dowell, Adam Cooper, and Christopher Wheeldon, among others.
Established more than 200 years ago, the Royal Danish Ballet School is one of the oldest in Europe. The young dancers, who train together from an early age, are taught by current and former dancers, one generation passing along knowledge to the next. The curriculum aims to develop the whole dancer, teaching the underlying skills and basic technique needed to eventually master the Bournonville style‹which emphasizes quick, light jumps and fleet footwork‹and also provides the dancers with the foundation needed to dance other styles and choreographies. Students will dance four works: Adria Feralli's Springtime to music by Kim Helweg; a pas de deux from August Bournonville's The Flower Festival in Genzano, set to music by Edvard Helsted and H.S. Paulli; The Bournonville School with piano accompaniment by Kim Helweg; and pas de six extracts from Bournonville's magnificent Italian romance Napoli. Graduates of the school include danseurs Erik Bruhn, Nikolaj Hübbe, and Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet Peter Martins, who will participate in a Voices of the Arts one-on-one conversation with Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser on January 30 in the Terrace Theater.
On May 4, 1738 in St. Petersburg, Russia, an event took place that was to have great significance to the culture of the world: the first Russian School of Theatrical Dance was founded by Imperial Decree of the Empress Anna. Now known as the Vaganova Ballet Academy, which is the principal training ground for the Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet, the ballet school has employed or graduated some of the ballet world's greatest dancers and choreographers, including George Balanchine, Marius Petipa, Vaslav Nijisky, Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Boasting an enrollment of 300 students, Vaganova is regarded as the source for the classical "Russian style."
Protégés provides audiences with the unique opportunity to see the distinctive styles of a beautiful art form‹regal elegance, quiet shoulders, dramatic presence, fleet footwork, purity of form‹imparted on the international ballet world's stars of tomorrow, all under one roof.
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor of Kennedy Center News.