It was big news in the dance industry six years ago when the star dancer Julie Kent, after a 29-year career with American Ballet Theater, said she would take a job as the artistic director of Washington Ballet, becoming one of only a few women at the time in the United States to run a major dance company.
On Friday, Kent announced another surprising move: She will leave Washington Ballet at the end of the 2022-23 season to serve as an artistic director of Houston Ballet.
Kent said in a statement that she was eager for a new challenge and had found a partner in Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet’s artistic director, who will stay in his position and serve alongside Kent.
“I have greatly admired Stanton and his brilliant work for more than 20 years, and I am deeply excited to partner with him in launching an exhilarating next chapter,” she wrote on Instagram.
Welch called Kent “ballet royalty” and said she was “immensely talented” as a dancer, coach and teacher. “There is no one I would rather have as a partner to bring Houston Ballet into this next chapter,” he said in a statement.
In Washington, Kent brought star power and a low-key leadership style as she worked to reinvigorate the 46-year-old company, commissioning 26 new pieces and staging 20th-century repertory, like Antony Tudor’s “Lilac Garden.” The company performed a version of “The Sleeping Beauty” staged by Kent and her husband, Victor Barbee, associate artistic director of Washington Ballet.
In her statement, she said she had “found my voice as an artistic director” in Washington and that the company would “always have a special place in my heart.”
In Houston, Kent will help lead a company of 61 dancers, with a budget of $34.6 million and an endowment of $88.9 million. The company has expanded its global reach in recent years, with tours in the United States, Europe, Russia, Australia and elsewhere.