A quintessential American ballerina hangs up her toe shoes

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Juliet's death is always a sad moment at the ballet. But it's safe to say there were lots more tears than usual when Julie Kent splayed her limber body backward across that cold stone slab in the Capulet crypt over the weekend — for one last time.

Kent, a quintessential American ballerina who's so often been linked with the word "beauty" that it might as well be her middle name, was retiring from American Ballet Theatre after 29 years. And her fans and colleagues at the Metropolitan Opera House weren't going to let her go without a curtain call for the ages.

One by one, Kent's fellow dancers, teachers and mentors walked onstage, handing her bouquets and offering long, often teary hugs. A few of her favorite male partners lifted her into the air, just for fun. Her two young children came out to join her, each getting their own bow with Mom. Confetti poured from the rafters, and flowers were tossed from the audience. Kent, 45, wiped away tears and blew kisses. The curtain call lasted more than 20 minutes.

"I'm still rather in disequilibrium," Kent said in an interview Monday, some 30 hours after leaving the stage. Ending her stellar career "wasn't easy," she noted, "but just because something is difficult doesn't mean it's bad."

And, as if to reassure the many dance fans expressing sadness on Twitter and Facebook, she added: "There's no need for drama here. It's all good! And that's the truth of it. I mean, who gets to have this kind of career? You can't be greedy about it. As much as that's tempting."

Here are some more of Kent's reflections on her career, and her big night:

AP: Was the final night everything you expected?

Kent: I didn't have time to have expectations. I was so focused on making sure the performance could happen at all. (Kent was recovering from a calf injury, first suffered during a performance of 'Giselle.') So there was an enormous amount of stress and anxiety around that. I was just feeling such gratitude that I could have that moment, and be Juliet again. There was so much love out there. Really beyond what I could have dreamed.

AP: The audience applauded so long when you made your entrance, it must have been impossible to hear the music.

Kent: That was incredible, I have to say! I felt the love of every single person in the audience. That was such a great moment of humanity.

AP: How important was it to go out as Juliet?

Kent: Actually, at first I wanted to go out as Cinderella. I wanted the whole company onstage at the end, and a happy ending! And I was trying hard to avoid all the drama; Juliet has been so important to my ABT life. But we all got together and talked, and of course, Juliet WAS the right decision.

AP: Why was this the right time to retire?

Kent: To be honest, if I could dance for the rest of my life, I would! The question has been on my mind for years now. My colleagues who've retired kept telling me, 'You'll know' when the time comes — but I wasn't getting that. And so I put my trust in Kevin (ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie). And he pretty much made the decision. You know, it's a natural process in a company. You can't have people holding on and holding on. Younger dancers need to be developed.

AP: What's next for you?

Kent: I won't stop dancing entirely. I have some performances planned in Italy with Roberto Bolle (Kent's Romeo on Saturday). I'll be dancing when it makes sense to me, and I also hope to be an ambassador for dance and an advocate for the arts and arts education — and to help develop the next generation of dancers. It'll all become more clear. You can't transition in a day!

AP: There has been some talk in recent years that ballet is fading away, or even dying.

Kent: No, I think it's just changing. Just as life changes, so does ballet. And the element of social media is changing it in a way that isn't bad at all. It's giving people who love ballet a way to connect. And I love that now you can just go to YouTube on your phone and type in, 'Juliet Kent Farewell' and see it.

AP: Your ABT colleague Angel Corella said when he was retiring that he was going to go to a bakery the very next day and buy two huge chocolate chip cookies that he couldn't allow himself when dancing. Is there anything you haven't been able to do that you're looking forward to now?

Kent: (Laughing.) That sounds like Angel. But no, not really. Dancing has made everything possible for me.