For the new executive director of the Kansas City Ballet, the goal is to make dreams come true
David Gray comes to the Kansas City Ballet with experience as executive director of the Pennsylvania Ballet and the American Repertory Ballet, and he has a rich history with New York City Ballet.
The Kansas City Ballet on Tuesday announced David Gray as its next executive director. Gray will succeed the Ballet’s current executive director, Jeffrey Bentley, who is retiring after 25 years.
“Kansas City Ballet under Jeff's leadership, has been very judiciously managed so that things are very well run," Gray said. "Some of the consulting positions I've had really boiled down to someone looking around going, 'Hey, you got a bucket? We're on fire.' I'm thrilled to be coming into an organization that's not on fire."
During Bentley’s tenure, the company experienced dramatic growth in resources, national reputation, fiscal security and community awareness.
CiCi Rojas, president of the Kansas City Ballet Board of Directors, said the board conducted a thorough search.
“Mr. Gray’s experience as executive director of Pennsylvania Ballet (now Philadelphia Ballet) and American Repertory Ballet, as well as his rich history with New York City Ballet coupled with his early international reputation as a finance and nonprofit management consultant, will serve Kansas City Ballet well as it continues to move forward as a national force in dance,” Rojas said.
Gray was raised in Princeton, New Jersey, and attended Johns Hopkins University. Following graduation, he moved to New York and worked in the publicity department of Doubleday Publishing. He then became press director of New York City Ballet where he met and married New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Kyra Nichols.
During Gray's tenure as executive director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, he oversaw the implementation of a new strategic plan. When his wife was offered a tenured faculty position at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, he followed her to Bloomington, Indiana, where he continued writing and consulting for nonprofits.
Gray said when approaching an organization like Kansas City Ballet, the goal is to make dreams come true for young dancers and audiences alike.
"I think for an audience to have an opportunity to sit back and immerse themselves in this stunningly beautiful, high point of physical human achievement that dancers only can do," Gray said, "you can immerse yourself in it and and rejuvenate for a couple of hours."
But for Gray, the important work of an executive director is not in the spotlight. It's behind the scenes.
"Someone has to make sure that the resources are available, that people are able to buy tickets, that we have a process by which people can support the company and try to make things happen," Gray said.
He's arriving in Kansas City at a good time in the company’s history, Gray said. In general, he said, he sees challenges ahead to grow audiences and to encourage diversity among the ranks of ballet companies.
"I'm very mindful that as we try to figure out how to make the world of ballet more diverse, people like me probably need to talk less and listen more," Gray said.
But he noted that the ballet community worked hard to attract and retain boys by creating boys-only classes and making sure they hired male teachers and provided scholarships. He sees some of these strategies as a way forward.
"When we committed to doing something, we found creative ways to go about it," Gray said. "I think we have to do the same to figure out how we're going to diversify, especially our academies.
Gray said he looked forward to working closely with Artistic Director Devon Carney.
"I don’t think there is a more passionate, talented, or kinder artistic director anywhere and I’m thrilled that I’ll get to work with him," Gray said.
Carney said transitions like this are a time of excitement for the company.
"I am thrilled that someone with such seasoned arts management expertise as David Gray will be stepping into this pivotal position within our organization," Carney said. "David has a broad spectrum of experience upon which to draw and will be an invaluable resource in the years ahead. I look forward to the promise the future holds as we continue to move our company forward.”
Departing Executive Director Bentley said he was also thrilled with the board’s selection.
“When you spend a quarter century with a company as part of its leadership team, it is extremely important and personal that your successor be someone who can confidently take the organization you love and guide it to its next moment in time. David Gray is clearly such an individual,” Bentley said.
Chairman of the Ballet’s Board of Directors Julia Irene Kauffman said she is delighted to welcome Mr. Gray into the Ballet family.
"I have no doubt that under Mr. Gray’s leadership, Kansas City Ballet will continue its forward trajectory, further deepening its connections within the community and raising the bar of artistic excellence," Kauffman said.