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READY, SET, DANCE: KC Ballet inaugurates new $32 million Bolender Center to great fanfare

And they’re off! In a fall cultural season to be filled with exciting “firsts,” the Kansas City Ballet leapt from the starting gate on August 26th with the inauguration of its new Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, located in the restored Power House just west of Union Station. Under a large tent set up outside the new $32 facility, arts leaders, politicos and other dignitaries gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, as the 54-year-old Ballet launched a new history in its first permanent home – a 52,000-square foot, three-level, seven-studio facility that will be the envy of dance companies everywhere. “There are moments in a company’s history that have an enormous and lasting impact,” said Ballet executive director Jeffrey Bentley, “that literally catapult a company into its next moment in time, and that have a serendipitous effect on the very body politic of the community. This, we believe, is such a moment.”

The opening of the Center “adds a tremendous asset not only to the Kansas City Ballet but to our creative community in its entirety,” he added.

The Center, the fruit of a vigorous fund-raising campaign that currently stands at $37.5 million of the $39 total ($7 million of which is endowment), is named for Todd Bolender, the former artistic director who from 1981 to 1996 brought the Ballet from a struggling local ensemble to a company with a national profile. Bolender died in 2006, aged 92, but his presence was felt throughout the ceremony. Julia Irene Kauffman, KC Ballet board chair, reminisced about her mother, Muriel McBrien Kauffman, one of Todd’s closest friends and most generous supporters. Her mother’s support was an outgrowth of her own passion for dance, she said, and both she and Todd would be honored at such a legacy as the Bolender Center. “I believe that their bond is still together, and that it is united in this building.”

Ballet artistic director William Whitener, who asked the Ballet dancers and artistic staff to stand, spoke of the “psychic lift” that the new Center would bring to the company. “Thinking about this fabulous building that we’ve been in for a week,” he said, “what I see is space, light, expansiveness and a renewed perspective on how movement can be showcased, how movement can be viewed with enough distance to fully appreciate the beauty of the dancer in motion. The dancer can now move freely, and the spirit can soar. For those who particularly love jumping, there are no limits.”

Tom Whittaker, president of the Ballet’s board of directors, praised three former company directors, Michael Kaiser, Claudette Conlon and Martin Cohen. He also alluded to the original purpose of the Power House – to supply coal energy to the Union Station complex – and said that after 50 years of dormancy it was being “restored to its original purpose: to create energy for the core of this city.” Capital campaign co-chair John D. Hunkeler praised the Kauffmans for their continued support of the company, beginning with Todd’s tenure. To build a Ballet company was “a dream in (Todd’s) mind,” he said, “and he found people to fulfill that dream.” J. Scott Francis of the advisory board spoke of the work required to complete the campaign, which started in 2001 and included “thousands of meetings, thousands of letters, thousands of contacts and thousands of calls.” Luann Feehan of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Ballet to the Union Station complex, which already houses the Chamber, the Kansas City Area Development Council, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, the National Archives, the Kansas City International Visitors Council and other groups.

Michael Kaiser, former general manager of the Ballet and current president of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., said that Todd was “a consummate leader (who) established a great team,” including ballet master Una Kai and school director Diane Adams. “The success of an arts organization depends almost entirely on the quality of the art,” he said. “If you don’t have quality art, you really have nothing.” But Todd’s goals went further, Michael added. “He always talked about quality of dance, but he wanted this community to embrace … to love this great ballet company.” Kaiser said in his present position at the Kennedy Center had has the opportunity to observe facilities similar to the Bolender Center around the world. “I can’t think of one that is more beautiful than this building.”

Other thanks went to general contractors J.E. Dunn, BNIM Architects and project principal Steve McDowell, the Downtown Council and president William Dietrich, Powerhouse Properties, Union Station and its CEO George Guastello, Michael and Ginger Frost, former Balanchine dancer and Todd friend Jacques d’Amboise, former Ballet president Mark Sappington, Muriel Kauffman Foundation president Dave Lady, project manager Dave Lovetere, Vince Dasta of DST Realty, Lauren LaPointe, Courtney Jones, Steve Taylor and many others. Several proclamations of congratulations followed the speeches – from U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback,Missouri State Rep. Jay Swearingen, Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo (for KC Mayor Sly James), Jackson County Legislator Scott Burnett, Greater Unified Wyandotte County CEO/Mayor Joe Reardon and Kansas City Councilman Scott Wagner.

The best was yet to come: As the audience gathered at the doorway of the new Center, d’Amboise and veteran KC Ballet dancerKimberly Cowen wielded a giant pair of scissors, and without further ado the red ribbon separating us from the entrance was cut – after which we were all invited in. Inside, guests were welcome to wander through the vast space. Shortly afterward another ceremony began, the inauguration of Studio 1, the Michael and Ginger Frost Studio Theater. The Frosts, an essential force at the beginning of the Ballet’s capital campaign, were on hand to open the space (as was d’Amboise), which is the company’s main studio rehearsal and contains 180 seats for viewing open rehearsals, showcase performances and choreographic workshops. After a brief ceremony, the company dancers took to the barres and began their morning “class,” led by ballet mistress Karen Brown, accompanied by music director Ramona Pansegrau at the piano and narrated by Whitener. It was the first time the company members had danced in the new studio, and it made for a fitting conclusion to the morning.

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.



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