For more than 20 emotional minutes on Saturday night, the audience at the Metropolitan Opera House was applauding on its feet.
The standing ovation was for Julie Kent, the veteran ballerina who has danced with the American Ballet Theater for 29 years. On Saturday, she performed her last show with the company -- a moving “Romeo and Juliet” swan song.
When the curtain came down after the last act, the 45-year-old dancer “received a 23-minute ovation and enough bouquets to stock a small flower shop,” per The New York Times.
Several ballet greats, including Alessandra Ferri and Irina Kolpakova, were reportedly there to honor Kent on her last night with the Ballet Theater. The Times writes that Kevin McKenzie, the company’s director, “simply and movingly knelt in homage to her.” Kent’s husband, Victor Barbee, the company’s associate artistic director, also shared an emotional moment with her on the stage, as did her two young children.
Concertmaster Benjamin Bowman wrote on Twitter that there wasn’t “a dry eye in the house.”
In a tribute to Kent last week, writer and ballet enthusiast Alexandra Villarreal wrote:
Julie Kent is an icon. She's the quintessential image of an American ballerina, poised and elegant. When onstage at the Kennedy Center or the Metropolitan Opera House, she seems an ethereal vision painted in the Rococo style, where everything is ideal, fragile, and ephemeral. She's emotion physicalized, evoking the world's misery, joy, and serendipity with every arabesque or change in épaulement.
Kent joined the American Ballet Theater in 1985, and was promoted to principal dancer in 1993. She is the company's longest-serving principal.
In an earlier interview, she told Villarreal that though the decision to retire was a challenging one, she ultimately felt that it was time she moved on.
"You just have to move forward, you know? You have to keep moving forward in life, because that's what life is," she said. "It's a forward progression. You just can't keep staying, and staying, and staying. And it doesn't make it easy. None of this is easy for me because as you can imagine, it's been my entire life for the past thirty years, but just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's bad."
Some of Kent's fans may disagree. She will clearly be sorely missed.