Why is this page text-only?
Laura Urgelles by Brianne Bland

Institutional History

The Washington Ballet grew out of the success of The Washington School of Ballet, founded and directed for 60 years by legendary dance pioneer Mary Day. The School opened in 1944 and the Company was established in 1976 with Ms. Day’s singular vision clearly illuminated: to create stellar institution of teaching, creating and enlightening through dance. Now under the directorship of Septime Webre, The Washington Ballet is recognized world-wide for its excellence in classical ballet training, its dedication to presenting the best in classical and contemporary ballet and its devotion to bringing ballet to broad communities throughout the greater Washington, DC region.


Throughout its 69-year history, The Washington Ballet has steadily progressed as a major force in the dance world and in its community. Important benchmarks, accomplishments and milestones have contributed to The Washington Ballet of today:

Mary Day and her mentor Lisa Gardiner establish The Washington School of Ballet in 1944.

In the 1950s, a pre-professional group of dancers trained at the School joins together to perform around Washington, DC with the National Symphony Orchestra, National Cathedral, and the D.C. Recreation department. This group also toured New York, West Virginia and the Dominican Republic, where the troupe performed with Alicia Alonso.

In 1961, The Washington Ballet premieres Mary Day's The Nutcracker with the National Symphony Orchestra in Constitution Hall and starts a long-running tradition of delighting audiences during the holidays.

Mary Day observes the teaching methods of the renowned Russian Academy of Ballet on a 1961 visit to the Soviet Union as part of the United States Department Leaders and Specialists Program. Inspired by her travels, Miss Day establishes The Academy of The Washington Ballet, combining dance and academics from 1962 to 1977. Although the academic section of the School closed in 1977, the dance training continues to this day.

For the 1972 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, Miss Day decides to take one of her students, Kevin McKenzie, where he won the silver medal. Kevin McKenzie is now the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre.

In 1976, Mary Day starts The Washington Ballet, providing a showcase for the budding young talents of The Washington School of Ballet. The first season consists of three works by an up-and-coming dancer/choreographer from Dutch National Ballet, Choo-San Goh, who becomes resident choreographer and later associate artistic director. During his time at The Washington Ballet until his death in 1987, Goh choreographed 19 ballets for the company.

In 1980, 17-year-old company member Amanda McKerrow is chosen as one of nine dancers to compete on the official U.S. dance team at the Fourth International Ballet Competition in Moscow. She partners with Simon Dow and wins the gold medal, becoming the first American to win the competition.

During the 1980s and 1990s, The Washington Ballet continues to grow, performing full seasons in Washington, DC and touring internationally to China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia, Spain, South America and more.

In 1999, Septime Webre joins The Washington Ballet as the artistic director and steers the Company towards new challenges, expanding the repertoire and broadening the Company's scope. Mr. Webre also initiates DanceDC, The Washington Ballet's flagship outreach and education program that incorporates dance and academic subjects.

October 2000, Septime Webre leads The Washington Ballet on an historic tour of Havana, making it the first American ballet company to perform in Cuba since 1960.

Miss Day announces her retirement in 2003 and in August 2004, Rebecca Wright, former soloist with the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, becomes the Director of The Washington School of Ballet and served until her untimely death in January 2006.

In December 2004, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre's new production of The Nutcracker, set in historic Washington, DC, to much acclaim.

In April 2005, THEARC, a joint-use facility that delivers first-rate programs and services of cultural, health, recreation and human development organizations to residents east of the Anacostia River, opens. The Washington School of Ballet starts its first programming there in the Summer of 2005.

Mary Day passes away in July 2006, leaving a large and meaningful legacy on the institution and the dance world at large.

In 2007, Kee Juan Han is appointed Director of The Washington School of Ballet, ushering in a new era of energy and excitement to the training program of The Washington School of Ballet.

February 2010, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre's The Great Gatsby.

August 2011, The Washington Ballet travels to Turkey to participate in the 9th annual Bodrum International Dance festival.

April 2012, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre's "ALICE (in wonderland)," the Company's most successful Kennedy Center production to date.

May 2013, The Washington Ballet premieres Septime Webre's "Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises."