Handout art on The Washington Ballet's "The Great Gatsby"

Elizabeth Gaither is partnered by Jared Nelson in "The Great Gatsby," getting an encore production at The Washington Ballet this season. (Photo by Steve Vaccariello, The Washington Ballet / September 6, 2011)

Dance companies see winter coming long before the rest of us. Many of their performance dates have been booked since May, and their season brochures have long since gone to the printers for distribution to potential subscribers.

The Washington Ballet was among the early birds this year, with internet subscriptions offering a 50 percent savings by simply entering the promotion code "TWBSPECIAL." Four different subscription packages are available, but fans must not procrastinate because the special deals are only good until Monday, Sept. 12.

Just returned from a triumphant engagement at the Bodrum International Dance Festival in Turkey, the Washington Ballet company appears especially vibrant these days, and it is planning a rich array of new and classical works for its hometown fans.

"The Great Gatsby" will be reprised at the Kennedy Center, for example, with live musical accompaniment Nov. 2-6. This is easily the most ambitious production staged by the company's director, Septime Webre, since he arrived in Washington some 12 years ago. Like the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel it is based on, "The Great Gatsby" ballet is set in the "Roaring '20s," under the gathering dark clouds of the Great Depression — but, oh, how these dancers make it all look so glamorous!


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Then the series changes gears for a contemporary twist in Twyla Tharp's "All American Program," Feb. 22-26, followed by the world premiere of "Alice (in Wonderland)," April 11-15, and Webre's own celebration of Cuban culture, "iNoche Latina!," May 9-13.

Also available is a Family Series whose highlight will be the 50th anniversary presentation of "The Nutcracker" at the Warner Theater, Dec. 1-24. Three premieres are also being planned for the season's closing months. Watch for details, or go to http://www.washingtonballet.org or call 202-362-3606.

Dance Place is celebrating its 31st season at its performing arts center near Catholic University. Directors Carla Perlo and Deborah Riley are promising a diverse lineup of "great dancing, fresh ideas and compelling performance art from emerging and established artists."

Look for the hippest "hip-hop" performers from D.C. and Philadelphia, for starters, plus five contemporary dance companies from New York. A "family festival" in late November hosts intergenerational classes and interactive matinee performances, plus Dance Place will be launching a new resident company, Revision Dance Collaborative, this season. Charge your tickets at 202-269-1600.

More international color

The arts of the Far East return to the Kennedy Center in "China: The Art of the Nation," with nearly 300 singers, musicians, dancers, and actors. Highlights include a free Millennium Stage performance by the Tangshan Shadow Puppet Theatre; the debut of the Beijing Dance Theater; a celebration of Chinese symphony and opera; and an outdoor exhibition of sculptures by some of the nation's talented visual artists.

Still, it's the National Ballet of China that always causes this writer's heart to beat a little faster. Returning to the Kennedy Center finally after its acclaimed 2005 appearance, this company will perform a mixed repertory program in the Center's Eisenhower Theater, Sept. 22-24.

Ballet fans may appreciate "The Red Detachment of Women," but the Wow! factor goes way up for the troupe's performance of the second act of "Swan Lake." This unique pas de deux has the ballerina spinning on pointe atop her partner's head while extending her other leg high in the air. Amazing.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet kicks off the Kennedy Center Ballet Series to celebrate its 10th anniversary in grand style. Nothing is more beautiful to balletomanes than "Diamonds," first danced on Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion stage in 1967. Farrell's company preserves the George Balanchine legacy at the Kennedy Center's Opera House Oct. 12-16.

American Ballet Theater returns to its former residency at the Kennedy Center with Alexei Ratmansky's wildly imaginative "The Nutcracker," Dec. 8-11. It will be followed by Russia's premiere Mariinsky Ballet, Jan. 17-22. The Paris Opera Ballet will grace the Kennedy Center stage with "Giselle," July 5-8.

The Kennedy Center's Contemporary Dance Series opens with the Beijing Dance Theater in "Haze" where the dancers perform in the midst of a smog cloud on a padded stage in the Eisenhower Theater, Oct. 26-27. There are a half-dozen other international dance troupes in this series, but the one not to miss is America's unique Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Feb. 7-12. Columbia's Alica Graf is back performing with the company, making it well worth the price of a subscription for local balletomanes.

The Kennedy Center has promised more free programs this season, with a new policy for giveaway tickets, including seats at the coveted Kennedy Center Honors Gala, coming Sunday, Dec. 3. Line up at the center Saturday, Sept. 17, but call toll-free 800-444-1324 first, or go to http://www.kennedy-center.org.

Around the state

Some choreographers are turning to literature to inspire their dancers. Ballet Theatre of Maryland will present Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Firebird" for this 40th season at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. For family viewing, BTM performs "Aladdin" Oct. 21-23 and "The Nutcracker" two weekends in December. To subscribe, call toll free 866-438-3808.

The Baltimore Ballet will be giving a free presentation as part of "Free Fall" at the BMA Saturday, Oct. 8. Learn what it's like to be a professional dancer, see how dancers train, enjoy performances from famous ballet variations, and try out some dance moves on stage — if you dare! The performance is free, but you still need to reserve a ticket, as space is limited. For information on this month-long city-wide arts extravaganza, go to http://www.FreeFallBaltimore.com. The Baltimore Ballet is also presenting "The Nutcracker" at Goucher College, Dec. 10-11. Tickets always sell out early, so send an e-mail now to info@baltimoreballet.org.

Theatre Project's original "Pass The Hat" tradition is being resurrected for its own 40th anniversary year. First up, Sept. 16-17, is "Affectations," a commissioned work which should whet your appetite for the good works to follow at this Baltimore landmark..

Renowned dance artists Eiko and Komo showcase their provocative choreography at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Sept. 14-15. The couple has danced together nearly 40 years, and their latest collaboration, "Regeneration," reflects the joy and sadness of these two visionary artists. (This performance is for mature audiences and contains nudity.) For details, contact http://www.clarice-smithcenter.umd.edu.

Taylor 2 Dance Company, an offshoot of the fabulous Paul Taylor Dance Company, stops at the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown on Saturday, Oct. 22. This must-see company founded by modern dance master Paul Taylor will perform familiar works from Taylor's eclectic repertory. There's also a master class in the works. Call 301-528-2260 or send an e-mail to info@blackrockcenter.org.

Ailey II performs at Towson University's Stephens Hall Theatre Sept. 16. This company has spirit and energy to spare, feeding off some of the country's best dancers as they pass through the New York City studio. For more information and possible classes with the dancers, call 410-704-ARTS or http://www.towson.edu.

If you can't make it to a live show, "Ballet in Cinema" presents dance on the big screen, beginning with Bolshoi Ballet's "Esmeralda" Oct. 9, then "The Sleeping Beauty" Nov. 20, and the Royal Ballet's "Beauty" Dec. 15. Check local theater listings for dance and opera and other live performances offered at local theaters. for these opera and dance events.

Get in the act

L'Etoile/The Russian Ballet Academy of Maryland is holding auditions for its "Nutcracker" production this Saturday, Sept. 10, from noon to 2:15 p.m. All students must be registered in advance with a paid fee of $15. Performances will be at the Century High School in Carroll County, Dec. 10. For registration details, go to http://www.russballet.org or call 443-851-1650.

The Howard County Ballet will hold auditions for "The Nutcracker 2011" at the Howard County Center for the Arts this Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 10 and 11. Open to all area dancers, the audition fee is $15. Call 410-465-9414 for information and to reserve a space.

The Misako Ballet does not perform "The Nutcracker." Instead, the company dances in small venues like the upcoming studio concert Sept. 17. Director Misako Aoki-Oda is currently holding auditions by appointment. A large-scale February production is planned for the Jim Rouse Theatre. Call 410-884-9690, or watch this space.