Now in her fifth season with Kansas City Ballet, Company Dancer Whitney Huell, opens up about her interests.
Q: TELL US WHY YOU BeCAME A DANCEr.
A: I started dancing after seeing my older sister perform in a recital. When I took my first ballet class I was hooked. I loved learning to do new and challenging movements and working to improve them every class. The constant work to improve steps intrigued me.
Q: wHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A PROFESSIONAL DANCER?
A: Being a professional dancer is a blessing because we get to pursue our passion of dance in the form of a job. Doing what you love for a living is a wonderful feeling. There are definitely ups and downs within one’s career but this profession is an exciting one.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE?
A: Food! I love dining out. I am very frugal but it is very hard for me to turn down a restaurant invitation.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SNACK?
A: My favorite snacks during a rehearsal day are fruit strips. They are tasty, sweet and give you a bit of a sugar boost. I like the strawberry and peach flavors from Whole Foods.
Q: WHAT WAS THE BEST DANCING OR LIFE ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED AND WHY?
A: Don’t compare yourself to others. Being the best dancer you can be is the goal. I think this is important and has helped me grow as an artist.
Ballet Hawaii, along with special guest dancers, performed Kansas City Ballet Artistic Director Devon Carney‘s The Sleeping BeautyAug. 3-5, 2018 at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in downtown Honolulu. The performances followed three weeks of rehearsals.
“Everyone did so wonderfully and all the Ballet Hawaii young dancers really stepped up! The audiences loved all the performances,” Carney said. “We all had a great time!”
There were 167 students who attended this year’s intensive program. Of those, only 37 are current KCBS Academy attendees, the rest were chosen through auditions that took place across the country or through video auditions. The majority of students came from outside of Kansas and Missouri, and two were from outside of the U.S. Of these one is from Japan and the other from Bulgaria.
Besides learning from an incredible list of teachers and faculty from Kansas City Ballet, others included: Sarah Lane, Alicia Graf Mack, Olivier Munoz, Larissa Ponomarenko, and Mel Tomlinson. All couldn’t be happier with the students’ eagerness to learn or their progress during the program.
“The students who attended our summer intensive this year were amazing,” said Kansas City Ballet School Director Grace Holmes. “Their level of commitment, camaraderie and artistic spirit, took our program to new levels. I am so proud of all of the students who danced with us this summer and we are grateful that they and their parents chose Kansas City Ballet School.”
Kansas City Ballet School Director Grace Holmes praises the students for their hard work at this year’s intensive. Photography: Andrea Wilson
Tanaquil Le Clercq was a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. Tanny, as she was called by friends and family, was married to George Balanchine and was once considered his muse. Over her career Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham and others created a total of 32 roles just for her. Her incredible dancing career ended abruptly when she was stricken with polio in Copenhagen during the New York City Ballet company’s European tour in 1956.
A Kansas City Ballet Connection
Tanny was friends with Kansas City Ballet’s former Artistic Director Emeritus, Todd Bolender, when he was with New York City Ballet both as a dancer and as a tour manager. The two remained friends until her death in 2000. In fact just days/weeks after she was stricken with Polio, she had sent a letter to him. She had to dictate the letter to her mother, who wrote it for her, since she wasn’t able to write for herself. She later regained use of her arms and hands. This letter lives in the Kansas City Ballet archives as part of Todd Bolender’s effects. In it she shares personal details about her illness and her outlook on life.
Having never recovered the use of her legs, Tanny found other ways to share her love of ballet including teaching ballet to students using her hands and arms to demonstrate the steps. She also staged ballets for companies as well, even coming to Kansas City Ballet to teach on occasion. She also wrote books, took up photography and more.
Kansas City Ballet’s Archives host items and information that relate to Kansas City Ballet, its artistic staff, dancers, and ballet repertory. Look for other highlights from the archives on this blog.
If you have questions about KCB history or our archives, please leave them in the comments.
After Peter Pan wrapped on May 20, she was on a plane the next day to Jackson, Miss. She served as the music director for the 11th annual USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson June 10-23, 2018. This first trip was to find the music in the music library for all of the contestants.
The next day she boarded a plane bound for Massachusetts and the annual Jacob’s Pillow festival that she’s played a role in for the past 16 years. This year she helped prepare music for a world premiere ballet by Annabell Lopez Ochoa at the Opening Gala of Jacob’s Pillow on Saturday, June 16.
11th Annual USA International Ballet Competition Continued
Then she flew back to Jackson on June 19 for session 3 of the competition to rehearse the orchestra for the Awards Gala and the Encore Gala, June 22-23. All competition medalists perform their solos or pas de deux to live orchestra.
Here’s the thing, though. The medalists are chosen and the list of their performance music is given to Ms. Pansegrau around 2 or 3 a.m. Friday. That’s when the real fun begins as she must stay up all night to prepare and arrange all the music from the larger collection (97 lbs of music!) she pulled in May. Her first rehearsal with the orchestra was from 9 to 11:30 a.m., the morning of the Awards Gala. That was followed by orchestra and dancers rehearsing together from 1 to 3 p.m. A dress rehearsal came next, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., and the Gala began at 7:30 p.m. Learn even more about this challenging and brutal process in this Mississippi Today article where Ms. Pansegrau is featured.
Preparing for Kansas City Ballet’s 2018-2019 Season
Now that she’s back, she’s keeping busy working on a new set of orchestra parts for Kansas City Ballet’s February show, Lady of the Camellias.
On Aug. 6, she’ll be back in the studios playing optional company classes. The dancers will all return Aug. 20 for the season.
On Tuesday, May 15, Kansas City Ballet School presented its 2018 Spring Performance at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Students from Level 2 up to and including the Student Trainees from Kansas City Ballet’s Second Company performed a variety of works for the more than 900 in attendance.
Kansas City Ballet School Director, Grace Holmes, said: “I am so proud of the accomplishments of our students this year. Our Spring Performance showed off our students’ hard work and allowed them the incredible opportunity to share their passion on the Kauffman stage. The depth they are achieving in this wonderful art form of dance is so beautiful to see – they make our School proud!”
Kansas City Ballet Patrons Society celebrated the end of a very successful 2017-2018 performance season with a cocktail reception on May 24 hosted at Roth Living. Attendees reminisced about Kansas City Ballet’s Diamond Jubilee Season, which featured the WORLD PREMIERE choreography of Devon Carney’s Romeo & Juliet, the Anniversary Dance Festival with six Kansas City premieres in two weekends featuring George Balanchine’s Diamonds and James Kudelka’s The Man in Black, and the WORLD PREMIERE choreography of Devon Carney’s Peter Pan.
“It‘s wonderful to watch our students grow technically and artistically as they prepare for YAGP,” KCB School Director Grace Holmes said. “Having something to work towards and an opportunity to share their hard work, contributes to students’ self-confidence. And our students are so supportive of each other – it shows how close-knit our Academy community is.”
More than 10,000 students from 31 countries who competed during the regional finals around the globe. Only 1,500 were invited to the finals in New York. Of these 800 were soloists of which KCBS happily had three, one made it to the final round: Poppy Trettel.
While KCBS students did not place at the national competition finals this year, three received scholarship offers from prestigious schools.
Hannah Zucht: Harid Conservatory
Simo Atanasov: Joffrey Ballet
Poppy Trettel: Canada’s National Ballet School
Shaping the Future
When asked about the event, Racheal Nye, principal and YAGP coordinator, said, “It’s great to see the growth in the kids by the end of the process, and see the school represented so well at an international event. I also really enjoy being inspired and motivated by other schools and seeing the talented students from around the world.”
Nye is proud of the way the KCBS students were kind and welcoming to other participants, and their professional attitudes. For example, the Baroque ensemble dancers were reviewing independently and had lined up at open stage to space before she even got there to look for them.
Every year Nye reads through the written performance critiques from the YAGP judges. Her goal is to incorporate these corrections into how she teaches all of her students going forward. She tries to approach the things she wants to fix by gearing the combinations to train the body to reflexively accomplish the move correctly. By looking at the experience as a whole, she attempts to answer these questions:
What pieces/choreography seemed to do well?
How prepared were the students and was there anything that she could do in advance that would make things run more smoothly?
What could she learn about preparing better for the venue? Etc.
In doing so, the results from these competitions shape strategy for future years.
Related Blog Posts
Here are some links to past blog posts with similar topics:
On June 3, 2018, Kansas City Youth Ballet (KCYB) performed in the Rose Garden at Loose Park . The performance is part of an annual event for Kansas City Rose Society. For more than a decade, KCYB has provided entertainment for the Rose Day celebration. Other events that day include a children’s rose craft workshop, a jazz performance by Mighty MO, a Mayor’s Proclamation, and free ice cream, lemonade and bottled water for attendees.
No Divide KC will host an event at Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center on Saturday, June 30 from 1 to 4 p.m. called “We Move with You.” The event is open to all ages and especially families in the community and will focus on promoting ways kids and adults with developmental delays can add to the creative landscape of Kansas City. There is a $5 suggested donation.
“I’ve wanted to do an event that highlights those with delays and disabilities for a while,” No Divide KC’s Board President Stacy Busch said.
“I have a nephew with autism. When I learned about the Adaptive Dance program, I thought this would be a great way to make something happen in a very positive way. KCBS offers lots of resources and we’re really excited to partner with them to host something in their home.”
More about No Divide KC
No Divide KC is a nonprofit arts organization that creates artistic events that highlight various social causes, organizations, and issues. Using the arts as a vehicle for stimulating social awareness, participation, and community building, these performances help garner greater attention to these underserved social areas and bolster community acceptance and collaboration in Kansas City.
No Divide KC promotes warm and accepting spaces for all people. They’ve held benefit concerts combined with ways for local community organizations to recruit volunteers and spread awareness. They’ve also created documentaries that encouraged body positivity and also under represented female identifying people in our community. This fall they will create an exhibition and documentary in conjunction with the Johnson County Library that will feature local artists from multiple minority groups.