Dancer Spotlight: Josh Spell

Q: How did you get involved in dance? 
A: In the summers I would stay with my grandmother.  She belonged to a Senior Citizens Group called the Happy Steppers.  I would go along with her to practice and watch.  When ladies were absent I would step into their places.  It became evident that I had a natural ability to pick up choreography and musicality.  Eventually, I began formal tap lessons at the age of 10. Being a boy in a small dance school meant that the teachers were always trying to convince me to do more.  I eventually gave in and started taking ballet at the age of 12.  The rest is history…

Q: What do you enjoy most about being with Kansas City Ballet?
A: I enjoy my fellow colleagues here at KCB.  There is such a strong sense of community that allows me to push myself but also not to take ballet too seriously.  We work hard, but we also form very genuine relationships.  In the three months I have been here, I already feel like part of the KCB family.

Q: What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
A: Most people don’t know that I retired from dance when I was 29 and truly thought I was finished.  I closed the door on ballet and went to school full time for Interior Design.  The universe works in mysterious ways and did not think I was finished, so here I am again dancing professionally.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do outside of dancing? 
A: I love to cook and travel.  After living in Seattle for almost 12 years I miss that family dearly.  Since I can’t travel every weekend I have gotten creative.  I often Skype with friends back home in Seattle, and we choose a dinner menu and then cook it together on Skype.

Q: I understand you’re a Pilates Reformer instructor. How did you get involved in that? 
A: As a dancer I’ve done Pilates my entire career.  It has kept me very balanced both physically and mentally and I truly believe in it.  Last year when I took the year off from ballet, I decided to get certified so I could share my knowledge about the body with others.  I also wanted to contribute to making people healthy, strong and balanced.

Q: What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Do you have any traditions? 
A: This is probably the first year since I was 19 that I have been able to go home for Thanksgiving, so I am very grateful to get to see my family in Texas.  My Thanksgiving traditions have always included dancing “The Nutcracker” the next day.  I always manage to eat some good food on turkey day, but it is never easy dancing with all the extra pie I have consumed.

Students in “The Nutcracker”

Ballet Master James Jordan

James Jordan has been with Kansas City Ballet as Ballet Master since 1991. This will be his 22nd Nutcracker production with KCB. Along with the company dancers, James will be working with over 200 students who have auditioned to be a part of this special production!

Q: About how many students auditioned for The Nutcracker this year?
A: We had about 250 students audition for roles ranging from Angels to Flowers.  Twenty of those who auditioned are currently students at the UMKC Conservatory and we take seven of their dancers into our production.  All of these students range in age from age seven to 21.

Q: What do you look for when picking the role of Clara?
A: That particular role requires an imagination and an expressive body that will help tell the story to the audience.  However, Clara does perform classical steps in both acts and therefore must have a strong ballet technique.  It’s tricky because she must be a good dancer but also needs to move like a little girl and not the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Clara with dancer Luke Luzicka

Q: Besides Clara, what are the most sought-after roles for students?
A: Any of the girls’ roles in the Party Scene are desired because they get  to curl their hair and wear frilly dresses and dance around. The boys all aspire to be The Prince and perform the solo pantomime in Act 2.

Q: Since there are multiple student casts, what are rehearsals like for the students?
A: There are usually three different groups rehearsing at the same time in different studios.  Some roles are divided into two groups:  Cast A or B and some are divided in threes:  Cast 1, 2 or 3.  Oftentimes, all the students are on their feet learning the steps but later in the process there will only be one group on the floor as we work out the spacing.  They switch groups all the time to provide a rest and also to keep everyone engaged in the process.

Q: What is the interaction like between the students in The Nutcracker and the company dancers during rehearsals?
A: Many of our company dancers grew up in similar situations when they looked up to professional dancers who appeared in their school’s production of The Nutcracker.  Now they mentor the little ones and help them to focus and learn their steps and spacing.

Q: What do you think students enjoy most about being involved in The Nutcracker?
A: That’s a tough one to answer.  I think they love the challenge of learning the steps at the Bolender Center but adore the excitement of dancing in costumes with the KC Symphony at the Kauffman Center.

Students as Angels

Q: Does performing alongside professional dancers in a full-blown performance typically enhance the students’ education?
A: Oh, very much so!  They see the professionals preparing in the wings for their entrances and flying through the air as they perform very challenging steps and partnering moves.  The students see their classroom steps really used and executed brilliantly and that challenges them to try harder in their classes as they work towards becoming professional dancers.  Also, the students see true artistry at work as the company dancers add their imaginations on top of their ballet technique to create truly engaging performances.

Q: What do you hope the students get out of this incredible experience?
A: We all hope that each cast member gains a true sense of personal responsibility as a member of a large team working towards the same goal.  At the conclusion of every performance, there is a real sense of accomplishment.

From Dancing to Choreographing

Company Dancer Charles Martin

Company dancer Charles Martin is in his sixth season with Kansas City Ballet. The past few months he has been working with the Kansas City Youth Ballet (the performing ensemble of the KCB School) on choreographing an original piece for their fall show, held the weekend of Nov. 10.

In the video below, learn about Charles’ time choreographing for the youth ballet and how his experience as a professional dancer aided him in his work.