Without Tatiana Dokoudovska’s tremendous artistic talent and distinguished professional career, plus the unswerving drive for furthering her art, the Midwest would be much poorer artistically – nor might we have a professional ballet company in Kansas City.
It was 1957 when Mme. Dokoudovska founded the Kansas City Ballet Company. Her goal was to bring a regular ballet presence to the Kansas City area.
For twenty years, she nurtured the company with her time, love, talent, and even her personal financial resources as artistic director, advisor and choreographer. She brought the company from an outgrowth of the Conservatory of Music’s recital program through gradual stages to a metropolitan-area civic company, and then to the threshold of the company’s first professional season. In 1974-1976, she encouraged an across-the-board reorganization to create a professional ballet company. The 1976-1977 Season would mark the entrance of the Kansas City Ballet to the growing ranks of professional ballet companies grounded throughout the United States.
Mme. Dokoudovska’s contribution to dance in general and especially to a professional ballet company cannot be over-estimated, nor is there any way to completely express the debt owed to her by all lovers of fine dance in mid-America.
Upon Mme. Dokoudovska’s retirement in 1980, the board of directors sought an artistic director of international stature based in the Balanchine technique. This effort involved many community leaders with a strong interest in ballet and in the presence of a ballet company in Kansas City. Advice was sought from Lincoln Kirstein, the driving force behind the founding of the New York City Ballet. Mr. Kirstein recommended Todd Bolender, an internationally acclaimed dancer, teacher, choreographer, and a protégé of George Balanchine.
Todd Bolender’s appointment as artistic director in the winter of 1980 opened a new chapter of opportunity for the Kansas City Ballet. Under the direction of Todd Bolender, the Kansas City Ballet built a solid and varied repertory. A number of ballet styles from lyrical to dramatic, from comical to abstract, became the trademark of this nationally renowned regional ballet company. The driving force behind its growth and development, Bolender fulfilled his vision of developing a nationally recognized ensemble, one based on his extensive experiences as a dancer and choreographer with George Balanchine, the New York City Ballet, and the School of American Ballet. Under Mr. Bolender’s innovative direction, the company became known for its vigorous dance style, naturalness of movement, theatricality, and sense of humor.
In 1986, Kansas City Ballet was renamed the State Ballet of Missouri. This followed the announcement of a joint venture with the presenting organization, Dance St. Louis. Plus Kansas City Ballet was realizing phenomenal growth and thus Dance St. Louis proposed a venture whereby St. Louis would become a second-home to the Kansas City Ballet. The opportunity allowed more performances for the dancers, more donations for the organization and more exposure to increased audiences. In 1996, following a ten-year relationship, the venture concluded when the organization expanded it’s Nutcracker performance run in Kansas City from two weekends to four. Kansas City Ballet reclaimed its original name in January 2000.
Mr. Bolender choreographed and restaged many of his ballets for KCB’s repertory including A Summer’s Day, An American in Paris, Arena, Celebration, Chopin Piano Pieces, Classical Symphony, Concerto in F, Coppélia, Creation of the World, Danse Concertante, Donizetti Pas de Deux, Galatea (Pas de Deux), Grand Tarantella, Le Baiser de la Fée (Folktale), The Miraculous Mandarin, Mother Goose Suite, The Nutcracker, Souvenirs, The Still Point, Tchaikovsky Suite, Tribute to Muriel, and Voyager.
Following Mr. Bolender’s retirement in 1995, William Whitener assumed the artistic directorship of the company. Before coming to Kansas City, Mr. Whitener served as artistic director of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal and worked with leaders who shaped the face of contemporary American ballet including Robert Joffrey, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp. From this uniquely formed perspective, Mr. Whitener conceives rich and varied programs ranging from the great classics, to the best of the Balanchine tradition, and the presentation of major new voices in the field of dance.
Mr. Whitener has diversified and expanded the repertory that reflects the best of American dance. He choreographed 16 original works for the company. While he insured that the Company’s repertory was fresh and infused with popular, contemporary work, he was also committed to the ongoing presentation of the works that have been the Company’s hallmark. These works encompass a diverse retrospective of the 20th Century’s most pivotal works including Balanchine’s Agon, Jerome Robbins’ The Concert, Alvin Ailey’s Feast of Ashes , Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies , Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo, Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe , Paul Taylor’s Company B, and Merce Cunningham’s Duets.
During his tenure, Kansas City Ballet performed in New York City at The Joyce Theater and Symphony Space and made its debut at The Kennedy Center. The company also moved into its permanent home, the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity, and became the resident ballet company of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Devon Carney became Kansas City Ballet artistic director on July 1, 2013. In his short amount of time at the artistic helm, Mr. Carney has brought a wide-ranging repertoire to the stage. He has contributed works by great neo classical choreographers of the 20th century, as well as by choreographic works by young emerging choreographers of the 21st century. Mr. Carney also has brought his versions of the most well respected great classics to the Kansas City Ballet such as Giselle and a full-length Swan Lake as well as The Sleeping Beauty (coming in 2017). Additionally, he created a Second Company made up of two instrumental new pre-professional groups, KCB II and Student Trainees, who perform with Kansas City Ballet while also acting as ambassadors within Kansas City by presenting community performances on an on-going basis.
The Kansas City Ballet numbers 30 professional dancers. The artistic staff and dancers were trained at prestigious schools and training programs affiliated with such companies as New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Boston, Washington, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh Ballets. Over the years more than 580 dancers have performed with Kansas City Ballet.
Kansas City Ballet School
Kansas City Ballet School began offering pre-professional training in 1981 under the direction of Todd Bolender and Una Kai. After 18 years in the Westport Allen Studios, enrollment more than doubled from 150 students after the company relocated to 1601 Broadway. In the 2001-2002 school year, Kansas City Ballet School reached maximum enrollment capacity. To meet the needs of students throughout the Greater Kansas City area, Kansas City Ballet purchased the Somerset Ballet Centre, located at 94th Terrace and Nall. This location serves as a branch campus of the Kansas City Ballet School.
Now, Kansas City Ballet School is currently directed by School Director Grace Holmes and provides excellence in dance training to a diverse student body. With locations in downtown Kansas City, Mo., and Johnson County, Kan., the School is comprised of two divisions: The Academy, which begins at age 3, and the Studio Division, for ages 12 and older. The Academy’s comprehensive approach is based on the traditions of classical ballet and prepares students for a wide spectrum of opportunities within the artistic community and professional dance world. In 2014, the School created a Trainee Program for students who have graduated from high school and in 2016, the School is initiating a Daytime Program. These programs aim to nurture and develop young aspiring dancers’ technical skills and artistry, ultimately preparing them for a professional dance career. Kansas City Ballet’s KCB II, an emerging professionals program, is in its fourth year. The program gives extraordinarily talented young dancers a professional company experience as prelude to their joining a professional company. The School’s Studio Division attracts teens and adults who wish to pursue recreational dance instruction in a supportive and encouraging setting. The School also provides classes for children with developmental delays through its Adaptive Dance program. The Kansas City Ballet School develops students of all ages whose lives are enhanced through their experience with the School’s faculty, staff and artists. These students are in a position to elevate the community’s appreciation of the arts through their outstanding dance education.
Kansas City Ballet is committed to making dance accessible to everyone in the community through special performances, educational and outreach programs. On average, more than 20,000 people annually benefit from Kansas City Ballet’s Community Programs through student matinees, discounted tickets, pre-performance programs and Reach Out And Dance (ROAD)—a program which incorporates dance into area elementary schools’ curricula. School matinee performances of Nutcracker and other appropriate works (such as Romeo & Juliet ) are presented each year, and for many of the 8,000 to 12,000 students attending, it is their first in-theatre experience. A curriculum guide is provided to schools in advance so that students can learn about the art of dance, as well as become familiar with the ballet’s story, music, costuming and sets. Engagement programs provide introduction, enrichment, and opportunity for anyone to explore dance as a powerful and transformational art form.