Todd Bolender – Celebrating 100 Years

This past year we celebrated the 100th birthday of Kansas City Ballet’s former artistic director (1981-1995) and building namesake, Todd Bolender. Mr. Bolender passed away in 2006, but his legacy of what he brought to the world of dance lives on.

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Our May production, Dances Daring (Then and Now), opening Friday at the Kauffman Center features four works, two of which have close ties to Mr. Bolender.

THE DANCER

The Four Temperaments
Bolender (then a company member of New York City Ballet) had been dancing professionally for nearly a decade when, on November 20, 1946, George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, with Bolender performing a lead role, premiered on the narrow stage of New York’s Needle Trades High School auditorium, part of the inaugural concert for Ballet Society, the immediate precursor to New York City Ballet.

Todd Bolender in the "The Four Temperaments" in 1946
Todd Bolender originating the role of Phlegmatic in the The Four Temperaments in 1946

“In the Phlegmatic section, he stole the show. Among the many great artists who have subsequently danced this role, none can touch Todd’s slinky, feline magic.” – Jacques d’Amboise (then a 12-year old dancer in the audience)

"The Four Temperaments" today - KCB Dancers Taryn Mejia and Tyler Savoie
The Four Temperaments today – KCB Dancers Taryn Mejia and Tyler Savoie. Photography: Kenny Johnson.

THE CHOREOGRAPHER

The Still Point
Bolender began making dances in the early Thirties, when he was still studying modern technique with Hanya Holm. He made Zodiac, the first of what he later called his outer space ballets, for Ballet Society, and he began work on The Still Point (originally At the Still Point) in 1950 when the Ryder/Frankel modern dance company commissioned him to make something for their new touring company. Emily Frankel chose the Debussy String Quartet and wrote the libretto. Out of these materials Bolender made what is considered the first crossover ballet, one made on modern dancers before being transferred to a ballet company.

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Kansas City Ballet premiered The Still Point in 1982. Dancers: James Jordan and Susan Manchak. Photography: Don Middleton.

Now considered an American classic, and by many, Bolender’s masterpiece…the story of a young woman rejected by her peers who finds acceptance and love from a quietly mature young man, premiered in its modern version at the YM-YWHA in the spring of 1955, with Frankel in the lead role.

KCB Dancers Molly Wagner and Logan Pachciarz rehearse the pas de deux for the May 2015 production
KCB Dancers Molly Wagner and Logan Pachciarz rehearse the pas de deux from The Still Point for the May 2015 program at the Kauffman Center

Todd Bolender was the quintessential American artist of the dance. Flexible of mind and body, open, always, to new ideas and new ways of moving, at once idealistic and practical, unafraid of taking risks or working hard, The Four Temperaments, The Still Point and Kansas City Ballet itself represent a few, only a few, of his contributions to the development of ballet as an American art form, as dancer, choreographer, teacher and director.

Read more about the legacy of Todd Bolender in a commemorative insert in the program for Dances Daring (Then and Now).

(Text Credits: Martha Ullman West is under contract to the University Press of Florida for a book titled Making Ballet American: Todd Bolender and Janet Reed. Between 2001 and 2006 she spent many hours in Kansas City with Todd Bolender, interviewing him and recording his memories.)