In late July, a new addition joined Kansas City Ballet. Christopher Ruud became the Second Company Manager and Ballet Master.
You could say Christopher was born to be a dancer…it’s in his blood.
His parents were both ballet dancers that met and got their start in Utah at the Utah Civic Ballet. They were later invited to dance with William Christensen’s Ballet West. His father Tomm Ruud and his mother Mary Bird (later Wood) became principal and soloist dancers there. In 1975, Tomm was invited to San Francisco Ballet by Michael Smuin. And in 1986 he became a principal dancer with SFB while Mary taught ballet classes. Tomm also became a choreographer while at SFB with his best known ballet being Mobile.
Christopher grew up watching his father perform in front of audiences from the wings of the stage. He began ballet at age 8 but quit during high school to play other sports.
When his father died in 1994, Christopher decided by attending the University of Utah and studying theatre like his father he could get to know him better. Following in his father’s footsteps helped him through his grief and to solidify his paternal connection. However, like his dad, he switched his major to dance and received a scholarship. Though he never finished his degree, it was the jumping off point he needed.
The Next Step
In April of 1998, he was invited to take ballet classes by Jonas Kåge, then the artistic director of Ballet West. For two weeks he attended class and Kåge only watched him once. He told Christopher he had no open contracts. But the next day on Christopher’s birthday, Kåge offered him a job.
Christopher went on to dance with Ballet West for 21 years—15 of those as a principal dancer. He even had the opportunity to dance his father’s role of ‘Ferdinand’ from The Tempest in his same costume. It was a role he’d watched his dad perform from backstage as a child.
“Legacy, emotion, life experience. Dance is reaching out and communicating these things. That’s what I learned from my dad and what I witnessed growing up. I have a soulful need to connect and dance,” Christopher says.
“My mother had an enormous role in mentoring me as well,” he remembers. “She is a ballet historian, lecturer and definitely a resource for me.”
Teaching the Next Generation
After a fulfilling dance career, Christopher decided to take his love for dance to a different level and teach. “For me it’s about watching the light bulb go on as I teach them,” he says. Inspiration, he explains, can come in so many ways: from figuring out new ballet steps and learning to partner to the emotional side of ballet that can tap into the soul and cultivate joy and meaning beyond the movements.
For Christopher, partnering is the most fulfilling part of dance. “It’s two people connecting, trusting and relying on each other completely to accomplish something so beautiful. That’s such a rich experience,” he explains. “It goes beyond learning steps and repeating them. You have to be in tune with others. That human connection with a partner is my favorite part of what we do. I hope to inspire that with any dancer I work with. An unbroken connection with your partner is a shock wave to the audience and onstage. It’s palpable.”
He strives to be a mature and professional resource to young dancers. His goal is to guide them in a healthy way to be better dancers, professionals and people. If he’s being honest, which he always is, he hopes to help cultivate the best human souls who are dancers.
“I like to talk a lot about my own experience as a dancer to try and find a way to convey to them what we do. The work and fatigue… right up to going onstage… it all comes together to prove every moment of our effort and struggle is more than worth it—especially when you know you have the audience hooked. It’s different for every dancer and so I must teach it differently,” Christopher says.
As early as his first year as a Ballet West dancer he knew he wanted to be a choreographer. It would be 10 years into his career before Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute would start an annual new works program called “Innovations”. That very first year Christopher submitted an idea. Three works were chosen to develop and perform on the program. Christopher’s pas de deux (dance for two) was one. Reviewers called his work Neo Neo Classical style. It was very athletic and demanded a high level of partnering.
“I always try to have a deeply emotional message,” Christopher admits. “I hope to elicit an emotional response from the audience. So I bring a wide array of experiences to the table. There is no end of gratitude for those I have worked with. These gifts I’ve been given, I must pass on.”
Why Kansas City Ballet
Ballet West had toured to KC to perform at the Music Hall in 2002-2003, but Christopher’s first real experience with Kansas City Ballet was in 2006, when he staged his father’s ballet Mobile on the company. There are these tiny threads and connections that have been stitched over the years.
Then a while back, he met KCB Artistic Director Devon Carney by chance and afterwards started to notice stories online about KCB doing amazing things. At some point, Christopher reached out to Devon directly about whether there were any openings as a Ballet Master or Second Company Manager. At that time those positions were filled. But when a spot opened up, Devon reached out to Christopher to apply. The rest is now history.
Christopher has been impressed with the warm welcome he has received.
He and his wife, Loren, are about to buy a home in Mission, Kan., and have a list of places to visit around the metro, including a number of barbecue restaurants. They, along with their two dogs, are ready to make KC home.
Wasting no time, Christopher has lead Kansas City Ballet’s Second Company to perform three performances at Second Company @Crossroads Hotel on Saturday, Sept. 7th at the Crossroads Hotel. See more from this event here.
This group will perform alongside the professional company during the Kansas City Ballet season. In addition, they will be part of Lecture Demonstrations and other public events that are TBA. Learn more about the Second Company.
Top Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.