For all the influence they had on popular music genres, aside from success they’ve enjoyed on their own, the Fab Four were only together eight years. Alexander the Great ruled the Macedonian empire from 336 BC till his death a mere eight years later. The Qin dynasty that reunified China lasted a decade and a half. (That’s about the length of time Julius Caesar held power in Rome.) Shakespeare’s legendary playhouse, the Globe, opened in 1599 and burned to the ground in 1613; the Bard’s career as a playwright lasted less than a quarter of a century.
Perhaps that provides contrasting context as we note Olympia’s Ballet Northwest, the oldest dance company in the state of Washington, is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. This laudable institution is still going strong after outliving B. Dalton Bookseller, Blockbuster Video, Judy Garland, Alexander Godunov, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
In fact, Ballet Northwest hasn’t lost a step, as demonstrated by an upcoming gala at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.
Asked how Ballet Northwest endures and prospers, its co-artistic director, Ken Johnson, points to “our core values. And that’s really to create a high-quality product — with high-quality sets and costumes and dancing and choreography — for both the performers and the audience, while also creating a wonderful, positive environment that’s nurturing and supportive and is really a family environment. … We’re really proud here in Olympia of this tradition,” he adds, “and we have 50 years of alumni out there who can attest to that.”
Johnson first danced with the company in 1988, as an eight-year-old “party boy” in The Nutcracker. He and wife Josie Johnson have been artistic co-directors since Bernard “Bud” and Mary Johansen retired in 2008.
“When they came here in 1972,” Ken Johnson explains, “the organization had been in existence for a couple of years, but [Bud] was really the one who created the core company of dancers that performed in community.”
Initially tied to The Evergreen State College, the Johansens moved Ballet Northwest to its enshrined status at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts when that facility opened as such in 1985. The Johnasens are “still very much involved and part of the family,” says Johnson. “We’ve been really lucky to build on that great foundation that they laid.”
Ballet Northwest’s golden anniversary will be celebrated in a semiformal gala headlined by talents from around the world. “We’re really lucky,” says Johnson, “to have six amazing dancers who have danced with American Ballet Theatre New York, [including] one of their top ballerinas, Hee Seo. Ask la Cour … is a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet and danced with the Royal Danish Ballet; and then [there’s] an amazing Cuban couple, Adiarys Ameida and Taras Domitro, who danced with National Ballet of Cuba, and he also was a principal with San Francisco Ballet and she danced with Boston Ballet. And then the program is rounded out with James Moore and Angelica Generosa, who are lead dancers with Pacific Northwest ballet in Seattle. … We’re bringing in these world-class dancers for our community to witness, which is just a really neat opportunity.”
Past dancers, dance teachers and board members appear in video clips to commemorate the company’s achievements over the decades. Attendees get heavy hors d’oeuvres and desserts by Bayview Catering, with dancing to follow in the venue’s black box theater. The Johansens will be there as guest emerita, as will Margie and Sam Reed. Margie Reed danced with Ballet Northwest for years, and Sam Reed was president of its early board of directors. Ticket income goes toward costume and scholarship funds. VIP guests will enjoy a pre-show reception with hors d’oeuvres, beer or wine and a souvenir wine tumbler plus priority seating.
Before Christmas, Ballet Northwest closed the 35th production of its annual holiday draw for dancers and audiences alike, The Nutcracker. It follows its anniversary gala with the 10th edition of Olympia Dance Festival on, aptly, Leap Day 2020.
Ballet Northwest’s 50th-Anniversary Gala
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts,
512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25