The Muriel Kauffman Theatre stage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was transformed into Romeo and Juliet’s Verona on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 for The Diamond Ball’s Private Dinner. Generous patrons of the 50th Annual Ballet Gala were awed by the décor and ambiance, courtesy of Larry Wheeler and Craig Sole, and enjoyed an exquisite four-course dinner.
MASS™ Medical Storage Owner Aubrey Guezuraga is not your typical corporate sponsor. In fact, before his daughter Penelope was born it’s pretty safe to say he would never have predicted his company would be donating to Kansas City Ballet.
Penelope was born unilaterally deaf on her left side and wears a hearing aid. The doctors at Children’s Mercy told the Guezuragas she would have a hard life. They said she would have a lack of coordination; an inability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time; and that down the road, dyslexia and reading, learning, and behavioral issues would likely follow. That’s a tough prognosis for any parent to hear. They also made suggestions. They recommended she get involved in activities that would provide full-brain stimulation like music, art, and dance.
AN UNLIKELY BEGINNING
So at age 3, Penelope was enrolled in creative movement classes at Kansas City Ballet School. And although at a young age dance may not have come naturally, she continued to take classes year after year.
“Being good at ballet wasn’t the point for us,” Guezuraga says. “We just wanted to give her a chance to challenge her brain and help her development. But a funny thing happened as time went by… she loved it. We found everyone was so supportive and eventually something clicked. She began to have leadership opportunities in class and her confidence really grew.”
This progress spilled over into other aspects of Penelope’s life as well.
When she was in first grade she was testing in the bottom for reading skills. So, the Guezuragas got her a tutor. And using the same process of focus, determination, and persistence she’d been using for dance, Penelope improved.
Penelope has continued to exceed expectations. She placed 5th in KU’s engineering fair for 8th graders when she was only in the fifth grade. Adding to her dancing, last year she participated in The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and in the regional and national Youth American Grand Prix ballet competitions… and her lowest grade was a 98%.
Penelope is currently 11, in 6th grade, and the president of her class. She’s in Level 5 at KCBS and is still participating in Youth American Grand Prix. She’s a leader and a well-rounded person.
“The Ballet gave her a straight forward method of addressing problems and improving herself in part because there, she has always been treated as a capable person. She is humble and hard working. I thank the Ballet for giving her the tools and life lessons to help her to be the best she can be in all aspects of her life,” Guezaraga says.
BEHIND THE GIFT
Knowing how much Penelope has been helped, Guezaraga is grateful to the organization and also to all of the donors that see the value in supporting the mission of Kansas City Ballet and School. For that reason, he hopes his sponsorship shows his appreciation of both Kansas City Ballet and its supporters. But he also hopes he inspires other growing businesses to start on this path as well: Growing a community to support the arts to drive excellence and new thought and to drive inclusiveness.
“It’s a gift to me to be a part of helping bring Romeo & Juliet to Kansas City. And it’s only fitting since it is also the favorite score of my daughter and I,” Guezaraga says.
Dear Dance Enthusiasts,
It’s an incredible story that Shakespeare wrote so many years ago, a timeless tale about the powers of love and fate. Two young lovers from rival families are destined for a tragic end which will finally conclude their parents strife… uniting their houses through grief.
Performing these roles is an experience dancers never forget—I certainly haven’t, especially dancing the title roles—the mutual journey of these two: Romeo and Juliet. There is so much opportunity to create three-dimensional characters. The beginning of the ballet highlights the vibrancy of youth, the naiveté. But then the growth of these two individuals in less than a week is just astounding. The incredible scope of innocence to tragedy and the emotional weight and aging they experience… it’s critical to be able to communicate all of this as dancers and artists.
You’ll also be spellbound by the music as well. Written in 1935 by Prokofiev, it’s a brilliant score that’s not even 100 years old yet. At 82, it’s still spry. Especially of note is the clarity of Romeo, Juliet and the Capulets’ themes.
And Juliet’s theme gets me every time. I keep discovering new things about Prokofiev’s score. That’s what I love about this art form… you’re always learning. You’re experiencing this gorgeous piece of music that keeps returning to the themes that grow more and more tragic. For example, when we first meet Juliet we hear a simple lighthearted flute and by the time she wakes in the crypt her theme has grown complex and heartbreaking.
Sets and Costumes
This ballet is a visual stunner as well. I just love these sets from Boston Ballet. They are the same sets and costumes that were produced in 1984 when I danced with them as Romeo. I know them like the back of my hand. In fact, lots of companies use these sets and costumes, including Kansas City Ballet when we last performed another version in 2012.
Now everything has come full circle as I present my world premiere choreographic interpretation on these same gorgeous sets. I’ve thought about my version for a long time and now was the right moment to make it—the beginning of my 5th season leading Kansas City Ballet into its 60th Anniversary. It’s an honor to be part of this significant moment in the company’s history. And I hope you’ll join us for more great dance this season including a new Anniversary Dance Festival in April with two different programs on back-to-back weekends, and a world premiere of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in May, plus crowd pleasers The Nutcracker in December and New Moves in February.
Kansas City Ballet Artistic Director
Top photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.