Houston Ballet Hires its First Co-Artistic Director

Houston Ballet's new Co-Artistic Director Julie Kent
Houston Ballet's new Co-Artistic Director Julie Kent Photo by Jayme Thornton

A friendship of more than 20 years, coupled with several professional intersections over that time, has had no small part in the selection of Julie Kent as the first Co-Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet.

Kent, a former ballerina with American Ballet Theatre, and most recently artistic director of The Washington Ballet will be working with longtime Artistic Director Stanton Welch in a collaboration that will free Welch up to choreograph more ballets as Houston Ballet continues its impressive growth.

"Stanton and I met when  American Ballet Theatre was on tour in Seattle just about a week after the attacks on 9/11. Our first meeting was in the Pacific Northwest Studios." Welch was choreographing the final parts of the piece that would become known as Clear. "That ballet premiered a few weeks later at City Centre.  We've maintained  a friendship professional and personal as colleagues for over 20 years now," Kent said in an interview after Friday's announcement of the ground-breaking move.

Kent will begin as Co-Artistic Director in July 2023 but even before that will be making trips back and forth between Washington and Houston. She will be working collaboratively with Welch on the upcoming seasons' programming while focusing a bit more on social events and fund-raising and leaving Welch more time to do more choreography.

"We have spoken about how we will collaborate," Kent said. "The root of a co-directorship will be a collaboration that is founded and rooted in mutual respect and we'll both have areas that we will be more responsible for but always with  a sense that you have a partner with you for support, feedback, all of the things that make a successful partnership on stage, in life, in work.

"I know that one of the things Stanton is eager to focus on is his beautiful choreography and the creative process. I'm eager to be a part of that. It's been so long for me to have been watching him in his element. I did commission a piece from him for The Washington Ballet in our 2021 season.

In a Houston Ballet press release, Welch stated: "I am thrilled to announce that Julie Kent will be joining Houston Ballet as our first ever co-artistic director. Not only is Julie Kent ballet royalty and immensely talented — both as a dancer, coach, stager and teacher — but there is no one I would rather have as a partner to bring Houston Ballet into this newxt chapter."

Asked why she was making the move to Houston, Kent said:

"It's  one of the most exciting and vibrant ballet companies in this country, if not the world. Its roster of dancers is twice the roster of dancers at The Washington Ballet . The impact of the organization's work on the community of Houston and the national and international communities of dance is tremendous. It's a great honor  for me to be in a position to contribute to those communities.

"I am coming to offer all of my passion and all of my commitment and my devotion to the art form of ballet and to this remarkable organization that is so clearly loved and supported by its community and it's just an honor to be a part of the legacy of Ben Stevenson, the legacy of Stanton Welch, and I'm just looking forward to making many new and meaningful relationships within all parts of the city."

Kent's employment history is impressive: the longest-serving ballerina in the American Ballet Theatre, she danced in more than 100 ballets working with, among others, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbin, Jiri Kylia and former Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson. She also originated several roles working with Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, Welch, and others.

She has been artistic director of The Washington Ballet since 2016 where she has commissioned 26 world premieres. She is married to the Washington Ballet's Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee and her family will relocate to Houston in the summer of 2023. The couple has two children, a 13-year-old daughter who will be starting high school and an 18-year-old now a freshman at Yale.

Speaking about her long-term relationship with Welch, Kent said, "I think the circumstances under which we met were very unique and special and  we also are the same age. My mother is from New Zealand; he is from Australia. There are some things both personally and professionally that were always in alignment."
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