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The Washington Ballet (2017)

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On May 25, 2017, Shakira Segundo watched Julie Kent step out from behind the curtain and onto the stage of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House. Dressed in a floor-length gown and speaking in a gracious tone, Kent welcomed the audience to The Washington Ballet’s annual spring gala performance. Kent’s refined demeanor was a departure from that of Septime Webre, TWB’s eccentric former Artistic Director. Between Kent’s formality and the evening’s bill, which included two ballet masterworks, it was clear to all assembled that the company was heading in a new direction. As Kent spoke of her admiration for the company, she asked for the D.C. community’s continued support.

Segundo, TWB’s interim Executive Director, was heartened to hear Kent talk of the company’s promising future. In the eleven months since Kent became artistic director, the dancers had worked diligently to improve their technical ability and refine their style. Now near the close of her first season, Kent had delivered on her promise to attract the nation’s attention and shift TWB’s reputation to that of a more traditional ballet company.

As Segundo looked around the jewel-encrusted theater, she knew the D.C. public was about to see TWB perform an exquisitely danced evening of ballet. However, it remained to be seen if this new artistic product would cure TWB’s precarious financial situation, and if D.C. audiences would respond positively to these artistic changes. TWB needed to sustain audience attendance and greatly improve its funding if it were to stabilize its operations. Although the company was embarking on a bold new era, it was struggling to raise contributed income, maintain subscription sales, and clear its debts. TWB was now offering the same ballets, and striving for the same levels of excellence, as the world’s most celebrated ballet companies.

But with many of these international companies touring to the Kennedy Center each year, it was unclear how this strategy would affect TWB’s ticket sales, or its ability to attract future donors. Segundo planned to leave her interim position at TWB the following month, and her successor had yet to be named. As the auditorium lights dimmed, Segundo considered who TWB’s next executive director might be, and how this individual would navigate the obstacles brought forth by TWB’s change in artistic leadership.

 

Publication Date: 2018-05-10

Suggested Citation: Gwyneth Muller, "The Washington Ballet (2017)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case Study #17-86, May 10, 2018

Keywords: Performing Arts, Alignment, Artistic Trends, Audience, Dance, Financial Management, Leadership, Strategic Planning, Transition, Case Video, Washington D.C.

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This case is from the Theater Management Knowledge Base, a body of arts management material created by Yale School of Drama Theater Management students and faculty, overseen by an editorial board of leading practitioners. For more information or for help in selecting cases suitable for your educational or organizational purposes, please email yaletmknowledgebase@yale.edu.