Kansas City Ballet

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The Kansas City Ballet (KCB) is an American professional ballet company based in Kansas City, Missouri. The company was founded in 1957 by Russian expatriate Tatiana Dokoudovska. The KCB presents five major performances each season to include an annual production of The Nutcracker. In the 2016-2017 season, KCB grew to an all-time high with 30 company dancers, 15 second company dancers, 64 full-time and part-time staff, and a network of over 400 local volunteers. The KCB, its school, and its staff are all housed in, operate from, and rehearse at the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, a renovated, seven-studio, office, and rehearsal facility in Kansas City, Missouri, that opened in August 2011. The company performs at and is the resident ballet company at the nearby Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a performance venue in downtown Kansas City that opened in September 2011.

In 1957, Tatiana Dokoudovska founded the Kansas City Ballet (KCB) at the Carriage House next to the old brick Conservatory building (the old Grant Hall). On April 30, 1957, the company gave its premiere performance at the Victoria Theater (now the Lyric Theatre) with Dokoudovska serving as its first artistic director. The program included two ballets: Michel Fokine’s original Les Sylphides, and Ruse d’Amour, an adaptation by Dokoudovska of Fokine’s The Toys. In December 1957, the Kansas City Ballet Company became a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization with a board of directors, business manager, and musical director.

In the 1958-1959 season, the company name changed to the Kansas City Civic Ballet.

In 1963, the company moved to a small place on 45th street near the Nelson Atkins Museum.

In 1966, guest artist Nathalie Krassovska came to Kansas City to set Anton Dolin’s restaging of Pas de Quatre on the company.

In 1967, Dokoudovska brought Shirley Weaver, a Kansas City native and former dancer with the Metropolitan Opera and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, to the KCB. Weaver danced major roles with KCB, choreographed, served as (honorary) ballet mistress, and taught alongside Dokoudovska at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music for many years.

For the company’s 10th anniversary in 1967, it performed a program at the Kansas City Music Hall featuring three guest choreographers.

In 1968, the company moved to Treadway Hall on the University of Missouri-Kansas City Campus.

In April 1968, choreographer Zachary Solov began a multi-year collaboration with the KCB, coming to Kansas City to choreograph and stage two world premiere ballets with the KCB: an abstract piece set to Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and a theater ballet based on Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens. The program also included performances by New York City Ballet guest artists Edward Villella and Patricia McBride.

For the opening of the 1969-70 season, Solov returned to Kansas City to create and present three world premiere ballets with the KCB: The World I Knew (set to Massenet’s Scenes Alsaciennes), Zygosis, and Divertissement. Lead roles in the first piece were danced by New York City Ballet guest artists Jacques d’Amboise and Melissa Hayden.

For the spring 1970 performance, the KCB presented the ballet Laurencia, staged by guest artists.

In 1970, the mayor of Kansas City, Ilus Winfield Davis, proclaimed a special “Civic Ballet Week”. During the 1970-1971 season, the company name changed back to Kansas City Ballet.

In spring 1971, Solov returned to Kansas City to present a program titled “Ages of Innocence” with the KCB. Solov choreographed/set two additional works for the KCB: Rhapsody and Celebration. The program also included two pieces danced by New York City Ballet guest artists Jacques d’Amboise, Melissa Hayden.

In December 1972, KCB performed its first The Nutcracker.

During the 1973-74 season, the KCB moved to a former appliance store building.

In 1975, the Lyric Theatre was designated as the season performance home for the company. In 1975-1976, a fall performance was added to the annual The Nutcracker production as well as a spring production for a three-production season. The company subsequently implemented its first sale of subscription series season tickets.

In 1976, Dokoudovska stepped down as artistic director of the Ballet to devote her time to teaching as head of the ballet department at the Conservatory of Music on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. That same year, KCB qualified as a member of the National Endowment for the Arts Dance Touring Program.

In 1977, the company office moved to the Prescott Firehouse in Kansas City, Kansas, an upstairs room with a fire pole in the corner. In April 1977 New York City Ballet dancer Patricia McBride performed her first full-length production of Giselle with the KCB.

In January 1981, Todd Bolender, a renowned and long-time New York City Ballet (NYCB) dancer, teacher, and choreographer, accepted the artistic directorship of the Kansas City Ballet. His first year proved to be pivotal for the company with the introduction of major new works and the implementation of several major initiatives.

In May 1982, Bolender saluted his mentor, George Balanchine, by presenting a four-day Balanchine Festival at the Lyric Theatre.

Kevin Amey joined KCB as company manager in February 1983. During the 1983-1984 season, the company increased its performance season with 25 tour dates in five states: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

In 1985, Michael Kaiser joined the KCB as general manager.

In 1986, the KCB was renamed the State Ballet of Missouri. The company continued to operate under this name for the next 14+ years.

In 1987, KCB debuted in New York City with four Bolender ballets.

In 1988, Alvin Ailey came to KCB with his ballet – the company’s first Ailey work.

In 1989, KCB premiered Bolender’s work, created and performed to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the University of Missouri.

In 1991, KCB premiered its first work by Antony Tudor.

In 1994, Muriel Kauffman, long-time Kansas City civic leader, philanthropist, and KCB Board Chairman from 1990 to 1992, established a $1 million endowment for the Kansas City Ballet.

In 1994, KCB’s Nutcracker sets were redesigned by Robert Fletcher (artist/designer).

Una Kai retired as Ballet Mistress in 1994.

In fall 1995, Bolender choreographed a “Tribute to Muriel” in memory of long-time Kansas City philanthropist and KCB-supporter Muriel Kauffman.

In 1995, Bolender retired at age 81. He was named Artistic Director Emeritus in 1996.

In spring 1997, Whitener premiered the first of his many creations for the KCB. In fall 1997, KCB established a full-time community outreach director position.

In 1999, the company moved to 1601 Broadway in the old NCR Building (prophetically perhaps, in 2011 this became the address of the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts).

In January 2000, after nearly 15 years as the State Ballet of Missouri, the Kansas City Ballet reclaimed its original name. In October 2000,

In the spring of 2002, Whitener garnered national attention and a Dance Magazine cover article with his work Six Solos, a program presenting six solo works.

In February 2003, in a collaboration with Johnson County Community College, KCB performed Merce Cunningham’s Duets, as staged by Catherine Kerr, with Cunningham in attendance.

In August 2011, after operating out of nine different locations over the course of over 50 years, the KCB moved into its new permanent home, the totally renovated (and aptly named) Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity. In October 2011, KCB made its debut as the resident dance company of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with William Whitener’s Tom Sawyer: A Ballet in Three Acts.

Devon Carney became KCB’s artistic director in 2013.

One of Carney’s first initiatives at KCB in fall 2013 was the establishment of a Second Company program under the auspices of the KCB School. Carney saw the Second Company, comprising post-graduation trainees and emerging professional dancers, as an important bridge and connector between KCB’s school programs and the professional company.

Carney concurrently began a concerted program to expand KCB’s repertory, introducing a series of full-length classical ballets as well as more modern works from established choreographers.

For the 2013-2014 season, Carney choreographed and staged his first new work for the KCB, Opus I, which was presented in October 2013. In February 2014, KCB performed Dracula by choreographer Michael Pink. To round out the season, Carney presented the full-length ballet Cinderella, choreographed by Victoria Morgen.

In March 2014, Carney launched “New Moves”, an initiative designed to search out, develop, and showcase emerging national, local, and company choreographers. Now an annual KCB performance event at the Bolender Center, “New Moves” offers participating choreographers the time, space, and opportunity to work with seasoned professional dancers to create and present world premiere works.

To kick off the 2014-2015 season, Carney brought choreographer Septime Webre to Kansas City to stage Webre’s ballet Alice in Wonderland.

In December 2015, KCB retired its venerable Bolender Nutcracker production (performed annually in Kansas City since 1981). In its place, Carney choreographed and staged an entirely new production of The Nutcracker. Carney ended the 2014-2015 season with the premiere of his full-length version of the classic ballet Giselle.

For KCB’s 2015-2016 season, Carney added two more full-length ballets to KCB’s repertory: The Three Musketeers and Swan Lake. For the latter piece, Carney invited former American Ballet Theatre prima ballerina Cynthia Gregory to come to Kansas City to coach KCB dancers on the Odette/Odile role.

In spring 2016, Carney presented a program of four modern works: Viktor Plotnikov’s new work Vesna, Yuri Possokhov’s Diving into the Lilacs, Helen Pickett’s Petal, and Adam Houghland’s Rite of Spring. For the latter work, former New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan came to Kansas City to coach the company.

In the 2016-2017 season, KCB performed Bruce Wells’ ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as Carney’s production of the renowned fairy-tale ballet The Sleeping Beauty.

KCB celebrated its 60th anniversary in its 2017-2018 season. Carney kicked off the anniversary season with his production of Romeo & Juliet. In November 2017, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts invited the KCB to Washington, D.C. to present its new production of The Nutcracker to a national audience.

In spring 2018, KCB presented its 60th Anniversary Dance Festival over two consecutive weekends. Week one included Mathew Neenan’s The Uneven, Jiri Kylian’s Jiri_Kylian#Petite_Mort_(1991), and George Balanchine’s master work Diamonds. Week two of the festival brought the world premiere of Andrea Schermoly’s Klein Perspectives as well as Stanton Welch’s Play, and The Man in Black by James Kudelka. Carney ended KCB’s 60th anniversary season with his original production of Peter Pan.

To kick off KCB’s 2018-2019 season, choreographer Septime Webre returned to Kansas City to create and present the world premiere of his ballet The Wizard of Oz. This work was a joint collaboration between the KCB, Colorado Ballet, and Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Jeffrey Bentley is KCB’s long-serving executive director, having been appointed KCB executive director in 1998. Bentley has been involved in dance and theater for over 40 years as a performer, administrator, festival director, dance presenter, teacher and consultant. In 2018, the Kansas City-based Nonprofit Connect organization named Bentley its Nonprofit Professional of the Year.

Devon Carney became KCB’s Artistic Director in 2013. A native of New Orleans, Carney was a long-time principal dancer and ballet master with the Boston Ballet. He also toured extensively throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe, and Asia with ballet notables such as Rudolf Nureyev, Fernando Bujones, and Cynthia Gregory. Prior to coming to KCB, Carney served as the Associate Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Ballet.

Kristi Capps joined KCB’s artistic staff as Ballet Master in 2013. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Capps’ ballet training included the School of American Ballet, Harid Conservatory and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Upon graduation from UNCSA, Ms. Capps joined the Atlanta Ballet for three seasons and then moved to the Cincinnati Ballet in 1996. Promoted to principal in 2002, Capps continued to dance in Cincinnati until her retirement in 2010.

Parrish Maynard joined KCB as Ballet Master in 2016. He danced with American Ballet Theatre and as a principal dancer with both the Joffrey Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. From 2005 to 2015, Maynard served on the faculty of San Francisco Ballet School.

Christopher Ruud is the newest member of the KCB artistic staff, having joined KCB in 2019 in the dual roles of KCB’s Second Company Manager and Ballet Master. Ruud received most of his ballet training at the San Francisco Ballet School. He was hired by Ballet West in 1998, was promoted to principal dancer in 2004, and continued to dance with the company until his retirement in 2019.

Ramona Pansegrau joined KCB in October 2006 as its first music director. Previously, Pansegrau served with both the Boston and Tulsa ballet companies, where she held positions as principal pianist, solo pianist, music director, and conductor, respectively. She has also served on the faculty, as music director, and/or as conductor/guest conductor for the Aspen/Snowmass Dance Festival, multiple International Ballet Competitions, the Ballet Across America Festival, the Orlando Ballet, and the Jacob’s Pillow Ballet Program.

The Kansas City Ballet is an ensemble/unranked company consisting of 30 dancers. Dancers are routinely interchanged and perform multiple lead, solo, and/or corp de ballet roles within productions, as required.

Company dancers for the 2019-2020 season are (name (year joined KCB),* = apprentice):

The KCB has performed over 200 works since its founding in 1957. The company maintains a complete list of works they have performed on their website.

The growth of the company to 30 full-time dancers and the addition of the Second Company has allowed it to expand into more and larger full-length classical works.

The KCB School was formed in 1981 by KCB Artistic Director Todd Bolender. It provided pre-professional training under his personal direction and that of KCB Ballet Mistress Una Kai.

Nearly 40 years later, the school has grown and expanded dramatically, now offering a comprehensive and diverse training program for students of all ages. It operates from both the Bolender Center in downtown Kansas City, Missouri as well as a second campus in nearby Johnson County, Kansas. It received “Outstanding School” awards at the 2017, 2018, and 2019 Youth America Grand Prix Regional Semi-finals.

Grace Holmes joined KCB as director of the Kansas City Ballet School in September 2014. A former soloist with the San Francisco Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, she previously served as Ballet Education Manager at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, England and more recently as a Professor of Dance at the University of Texas at Austin.

The KCB School has two divisions: The Academy, which begins at age 3, and the Studio Division, for ages 12 and older.

– Lower School. The Lower school offers two programs. The Children’s Program, for ages 3-7, introduces children to ballet and movement while focusing on creativity and group interaction. The Primary Program, for ages 7-11, lays the foundation of more advanced classical ballet training.

– Upper School. The Upper school offers Intermediate and Advanced programs. Both programs focus on developing a student’s technique, musicality, and artistry. The varied curriculum and progression of levels allows for the development of a strong, versatile dancer. The Daytime Program was introduced in 2016 as an extension of the Upper School. It offers students an opportunity to study intensively during the day. Students attend 20-25 hours of training each week including classes in all dance forms.

– Junior Studio classes are for students, ages 7-15 who are unable to commit to the number of classes per week that are required to participate in the Academy Division. These classes also provides Academy students the opportunity to augment their dance education with classes other curriculum, such as Jazz and Hip Hop.

– Studio Dance and Fitness classes are for all ages and experience levels.

– Adult dance classes and workshops are available and organized into 4 or 6 week sessions.

Originally called the Midwest Youth Ballet, it began its residency with the KCB School in 2005. KCYB is made up of dancers ranging in age from 13-18. The company presents two major performances each season and educational outreach demonstrations throughout the community, showcasing works by local and national choreographers, as well as new emerging artists.

KCB’s Second Company is an emerging professionals program. It provides talented young dancers professional experience as a prelude to their moving into a professional company.

KCB offers an array of community engagement and education programs designed to create awareness and appreciation of ballet and to engage learners of all ages in a deeper understanding and connection to dance and the ballet art form.

April Berry is the KCB Director of Community Engagement and Education. She joined the KCB staff in July 2016. A former principal dance artist with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ms. Berry previously served as the Director of Education and Community Programs for BalletMet Columbus and Director of Education and Outreach for North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet), where she created and developed award-winning education programs.

BARRE KC was established in 2004 as a KCB support/networking group focused on young adults and professionals interested in supporting the KCB. BARRE KC sponsors the annual BARRE Soiree fundraiser. Recently this activity has been included as part of the KCB Season Announcement, an annual cocktail event held each spring. Proceeds from the BARRE Soire are used to fund scholarships for schools and students participating in the KCB Reach Out And Dance (ROAD) program.

The KCB Guild can be traced to a group created by KCB mothers to support the KCB back in 1961. In 1967, this group was known as the KCB “Women’s Committee”, it was subsequently renamed the “Kansas City Ballet Guild.” The KCB Guild is currently a group of nearly 200 Kansas City-area ballet supporters who serve as advocates for dance and ballet in the Kansas City community.

The KCB Bolender Society is a group of ballet supporters who make substantial annual donations and/or legacy endowments to the KCB. Members are invited to special KCB events such lunches/lectures with guest choreographers, social gatherings with company dancers, private rehearsals, and trips to dance performances.

In 2016, the KCB staff organized a week-long trip for 44 members and KCB staff members to Cuba to attend the 25th International Ballet Festival of Havana. Participants were offered special tours each day (including a visit to the Cuban National Ballet School) and attended IBF performances each evening.

Kaiser, Michael (2008). The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations. Hanover: University Press of New England. p. 183. ISBN 9781584657354.

Muriel Kauffman Foundation (1995). A Salute to Todd Bolender. State Ballet of Missouri.

Townley, Wyatt (2001). Kansas City Ballet: The First Fifty Years. Rockhill Books. p. 51. ISBN 193346643X.

News Reporter