Septime Webre: What I’ve Learned

The artistic director of Hong Kong Ballet and competition judge on being bossy and finding new mountains to conquer.

  • A competition like the Genée makes warriors of young dancers. They’re forced to go it alone. As a judge, you’re looking for a facility for classical ballet and amazing training. But it’s also that X-factor – we can’t define it, but we know it when we see it.
  • There’s a Cuban saying – Cubans can dance before they can walk. My family moved to the Bahamas when I was 12, but every Saturday, we would push back the sofa and dance.
  • In my early teens, I followed my sister to ballet class. I was expected to become a doctor or lawyer and didn’t have dance role models. I didn’t know it was doable until I went to university in Texas. On the fifth day of rehearsals, I decided this was what I would do.
  • I was bossy as a kid. As a 10-year-old, I was organising my siblings into plays and put together the Christmas pageant for our Catholic youth group. I gravitated towards designing experiences for others.
  • My career as a dancer was relatively short – when I turned 30, I was offered a directorship at American Repertory Ballet in Princeton. My mind was ready for the next thing.
  • At 36, I went to lead Washington Ballet. I was in a new environment. We performed at the White House, and Bill Clinton came to see us because Chelsea trained at the Washington School of Ballet and danced in The Nutcracker. But many of our students came from the most disadvantaged areas of the city. We built the most diverse company in America, perhaps in the world – ballet is at its best when people can see themselves in the art.
  • I find leading a company so much easier when I’m choreographing on the dancers. It builds a sense of trust. Digging in deep with the dancers is what bonds us.
    Hong Kong is so vibrant and energised – it’s a city where you can get things done.
  • We want to establish Hong Kong Ballet as one of Asia’s most forward-looking companies. Ballet in the City will make ballet-goers of the entire population, and Hong Kong Cool is a series of seven world premieres partnering choreographers with artists from a different medium, celebrating the city’s creative class.
  • New places are always a new beginning – new mountains to conquer. But I always see commonalities more than differences – cool new things that can seep into the art. As artists, we are trying to ennoble the world.
This interview originally appeared in Dance Gazette