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Kansas City Ballet's Artistic Director Changes Steps In 2013

courtesy of the Kansas City Ballet
Kansas City Ballet Artistic Director William Whitener

The Kansas City Ballet announced late Friday that longtime artistic director William Whitener will step down at the end of the 2012-2013 season

Whitener was appointed artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet in 1996, following the 17-year tenure of Todd Bolender.

In a press release, Executive Director Jeffrey J. Bentley stated: “Bill Whitener’s contribution to Kansas City Ballet and to the arts in Kansas City cannot be overestimated. I have had the pleasure of working with him for the better part of 20 years here and in Canada. Our association has resulted in the creation of an artistically robust and debt-free organization.”

Growth and National Attention for a Regional Company

Since 1996, William Whitener has choreographed more than a dozen new works for the Kansas City Ballet. This includesTom Sawyer - A Ballet in Three Acts, presented in October 2011 during the inaugural season at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. According to officials, Tom Sawyer marked "the second highest grossing ballet in the company's history."

In a review, The New York Times wrote this of the production: "music and stage action complement each other all the way...The Kansas City dancers are delights in their jumps; footwork; full-bodied, three-dimensional shapes; and lively characterization."

Whitener also commissioned 17 new works for the company by American choreographers, such as Jessica Lang and Donald McKayle, as well as presenting historically significant works.

In 2011, the Kansas City Ballet moved performances from the Lyric Theatre to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and opened the Todd Bolender Center for the Dance and Creativity. The company's budget has grown from $2.5 to $7 million.

A Dancer's Approach as Artistic Director

A native of Seattle, Whitener started ballet training as a child. At the age of 11, he received a Ford Foundation scholarship to study with the San Francisco Ballet School. As a teenager, Whitener trained with Robert Joffrey and joined the New York City Opera Ballet.

Whitener gained a reputation for his "smart, witty, classical approach" as a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and Twyla Tharp Dance. He also danced on Broadway with the original cast of Bob Fosse's Dancin' and worked in film and television on Amadeus, Bye Bye Birdie!, Dance in America, and The Catherine Wheel.

Before taking the helm at Kansas City Ballet, Whitener served as artistic director of Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.

Plans for the Future: "It's the beginning of my third act."

The Board of Directors of the Kansas City Ballet announced that William Whitener decided not to renew his employment contract for the 2013-2014 season.

In a press release, Whitener said this about his upcoming 17th season as artistic director with the Kansas City Ballet:

"I feel it is an opportune time to move into the next phase of my professional and creative life; it’s the beginning of my third act. Now that the ballet company has had such splendid openings at the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, I am confident that the Ballet will continue to develop and thrive. I have always aspired to work as an independent artist on a project-to-project basis. Therefore, I plan to remain active in theatre, dance and other media as a director, choreographer, teacher, writer and advocate for the arts. In addition, I will be expanding my association with choreographer Twyla Tharp, and begin to multiply the number of her ballets which I stage domestically and internationally. It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of the consistent and recent rise of Kansas City Ballet. I look forward to watching and supporting the company and its wonderful dancers as it continues to build on its success. I am deeply grateful to our many trustees, donors, artists, faculty, staff, writers, audiences and loyal community members who have helped to turn so many of our dreams into reality.”

An international search will soon be underway to select the next artistic director for the Kansas City Ballet. The Board of Directors has begun the process of naming a search committee.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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