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Kansas City Ballet executive director will retire next year: '25 years had a nice ring to it'

Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios
Kansas City Ballet executive director Jeffrey Bentley will retire in June 2023.

The Kansas City Ballet's executive director Jeffrey Bentley plans to step down in June 2023. The ballet company is considered one of the most financially stable in the country.

Sometimes it’s all about the timing.

“This will be my 25th year with the company,” says the Kansas City Ballet’s executive director Jeff Bentley, “and, you know, I'm in my mid-70s so, you know, it just seemed like the right moment.”

Bentley has served in the leadership role since 1998.

He’s steered the company through highs, such as the opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in 2011, and lows, such as economic downturns and, most recently, COVID-19.

During the pandemic shutdown, the company kept dancers and staff employed presenting two dozen new ballets online.

Stepping down in 2023, Bentley says, “just seemed like the right time and 25 years had a nice ring to it.”

Kansas City Ballet
The lobby of the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, the home of the Kansas City Ballet.

Bentley describes the Todd Bolender Center of Dance and Creativity as a “point of pride.” He was part of the leadership team that “saw the promise of that decrepit old building” west of Union Station.

The former power plant was renovated into a 60,000 square foot home for the Kansas City Ballet, with seven studios, rehearsal space and a 180-seat theater. Named for former artistic director Todd Bolender, it opened in August 2011.

That milestone, along with the opening of the Kauffman Center, allowed the company to grow and “become a cultural institution in the city,” Bentley says.

“And I look at it (the Bolender Center) today and I hear the music coming from the studios and I see the dancers at home in those studios,” he said. “I have a great deal of pride in that because dance has been my life since I was a kid. So that, that all feels very good to me.”

Kansas City Ballet
Kansas City Ballet School dancers in the Michael and Ginger Frost Studio Theater in the Bolender Center.

Bentley grew up in Patterson, New Jersey, and was inspired to start dancing at the age of eight after his mom took him to see the New York City Ballet’s production of “Apollo.”

“I went home after that performance,” he recalls, “and I wanted to dance, I wanted to take dance lessons. And mom found a way to make that happen.”

He aspired to become a professional dancer, and trained as a scholarship student with the America Ballet Center and at the School of the American Ballet. But in 1967, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After a tour in Vietnam, his career path shifted into arts administration.

Before arriving in Kansas City in 1998, he served in leadership roles with dance and theater companies in Seattle, Washington; Chicago and Evanston, Illinois; Eugene, Oregon; Aspen, Colorado; and Winnipeg, Canada.

Bentley is credited with guiding the Kansas City Ballet’s growth and financial stability. He’s served with two artistic directors, including the current artistic director Devon Carney.

Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney started with the company in the 2013–2014 season. He's created new choreography for 'The Nutcracker,' as well as other works, and he spearheaded the launch of a second company.

During Bentley's tenure, the company’s budget increased from $1.2 million in 1998 to $10 million; the school has grown from 150 students to 650 students in two locations in Kansas City, Missouri, and Johnson County, Kansas. He’s also helped build a substantial endowment for the organization, at $20 million to date.

Bentley plans to stay on through June 30, 2023, and hopes to share some institutional knowledge with the next person who takes on the job. And the longevity of his senior staff, some of whom predate his own hiring, ensures that it will be passed on.

“I honestly believe that no one does something like this, or almost anything, frankly, by themselves,” he says. “One of the things I'm going to miss most of all is the people that I work with on a daily basis.”

The Kansas City Ballet has created a committee to conduct a national search for a new executive director.

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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