Major changes are afoot at The Washington Ballet. Although former American Ballet Theatre star Julie Kent doesn’t officially step into her role as the company’s artistic director until July, she’s already making moves in preparation for the 2016–17 season. This afternoon, she announced that another former ABT principal will be joining the team: Xiomara Reyes will head The Washington School of Ballet, effective September 1.
The move marks Kent’s first staff appointment. Reyes will take the place of revered teacher Kee Juan Han (who famously trained David Hallberg) and who announced his retirement in late April. Reyes’ husband, Rinat Imaev, currently a company teacher at ABT, will also join TWSB as senior faculty and company teacher. We spoke with Reyes about the vision she and Kent share, her Cuban roots, relocating to DC and more.
What have you been up to since you retired from ABT last year?
I have been dancing, guesting, judging, teaching. We just came from teaching in Japan for three weeks. We still have commitments for various summer intensives, and we have IBStage, which is our summer intensive that we co-direct in Barcelona. And we are going to Varna this summer, too, so we have been moving a lot.
How did The Washington School of Ballet opportunity come up?
When Julie knew they were looking for somebody to take care of the school, she told us and wondered if we would like to apply. She wants to create something with the company, and I think we probably have the same idea and vision for the school. I know there were a lot of people they were considering, but I had worked with The Washington Ballet last year when I danced in their Sleepy Hollow, so I knew I was not unknown to them.
How is your vision similar to Kent’s?
We both want to offer a very nourishing approach to life and to dance and to the kids. It’s about trying to nourish the artistic part, but also we have a pretty high standard for what we want to see in the kids. That’s very important right now because she wants the connection between the school and the company to be closer.
Will you incorporate any aspects of your Cuban training at the school?
Oh, of course. [laughs] All of the faculty already come at it from their different backgrounds—like a melting pot. It’s not going to be a Cuban school; it’s not going to be a Russian school; it’s going to be what we find is the best approach to provide the kids with the best background to be able to dance in the company.
How has your husband influenced your teaching style?
I have learned a lot from his way of teaching. He’s extremely giving and generous. It’s always not about you, the teacher. It’s about the person that’s in front of you. And what I have always admired about the Russian school is the arms: the port de bras, the épaulement, the space in the movement. That’s something that I’m always trying to grab from him and incorporate in my dancing and in my teaching, too.
What do you think you’ll miss most about living in New York, and what are you looking forward to about life in DC?
I enjoyed working at ABT so much—the friends, the dancing. And I love the city, but, you know, I’m not really a city girl. I prefer the other side, more nature, and Washington has a blend of both. It has a very nice cultural life and at the same time that wonderful…suburban feel. We are looking forward to that.
Any advice for dancers who hope to have a career in ballet?
You really have to love it. You have to be very passionate about it and know that you’re going to have to put a lot of effort and concentration into it. But when you have passion, it’s not so much work. It becomes a way of being. You have to push yourself a lot, but, at the end, it’s the most rewarding thing.