Artistic Director 1981 – 1995
Todd Bolender’s appointment as Artistic Director in the winter of 1981 opened a new chapter of opportunity for the Kansas City Ballet. Confident that a broader community support for classical ballet might be found, and emboldened by a small core of enthusiasts, he set about to build a company, a repertoire and a school. Successes were hard won at first, but they came more frequently. “Kansas City has, at last begun to do something about dance,” said Bolender, “… to regard ballet as a serious and essential part of the art world … necessary, important, and here to stay.”
He reflected on his boyhood in Canton, Ohio, recalling the early influence of a family steeped in music, theater and all forms of art. At 16, Bolender left home and formal schooling for New York City where he studied many forms of dance and savored the wealth of the literary, theatrical and visual arts the city offered. Professional associations with George Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein and scores of extraordinary dancers, with painter Paul Cadmus, composers Virgil Thomson, Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland, all influenced his ongoing self-education. As a principal dancer and promising young choreographer with Ballet Caravan, Ballet Society and New York City Ballet, he played a significant role in the coming of age of classical dance in America.
Before taking up residence in Kansas City, he served as Ballet Director of the opera houses in Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany and also in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey. On Broadway, his choreographic credits included Time Remembered, The Conquering Hero, and Cry for Us All. His choreography for New York City Ballet included such works as The Miraculous Mandarin, The Still Point, Mother Goose Suite, and Souvenirs, all of which he restaged for Kansas City Ballet. In addition, he choreographed works for The Joffrey, Harkness and San Francisco Ballets. His choreography for the Kansas City Ballet serves as a kind of company chronicle, from the earliest Classical Symphony through the most recent work Arena. The list also includes Coppelia, Chopin Piano Pieces, Grand Tarantella, Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky Suite, Concerto in F and Tribute to Muriel. He took great pleasure in the four major pieces created in collaboration with internationally acclaimed sculptor, the late Dale Eldred. From Voyager and Danses Concertante through An American in Paris and Celebration, the collaboration was uniquely gratifying to the participants and patrons alike.
Upon his retirement in 1995, Mr. Bolender savored the artistic opportunities of his emeritus position with the Kansas City Ballet. In his final years, he generously helped the Balanchine Foundation by contributing his knowledge and memory in coaching the current dancers in his Phlegmatic solo from The Four Temperaments and collaborating with ballerina Allegra Kent on coaching the ballet Ivesiana.
In 2001, he restored the entire ballet Renard. It was performed for Kansas City’s Stravinsky Festival and the Balanchine Centennial celebration in New York. At his 90th birthday celebration, it was announced that the Kansas City Ballet’s permanent home will be named The Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity. In 2006, he was interviewed for a public television Dance in America special on his colleague and friend, Jerome Robbins, that will air in 2008. Mr. Bolender also was recognized with a 2006 Dance Magazine award but he passed away in October, prior to the New York presentation. Mr. Bolender was “the North star” of the Kansas City Ballet and built a foundation of quality and grand proportion, scarcely imaginable in 1981.