Todd Bolender (February 27, 1914 – October 12, 2006) was a renowned ballet dancer, teacher, choreographer, and director. He was an instrumental figure in the creation and dissemination of classical dance and ballet as an American art form. A child of the American Midwest during the Great Depression, he studied under George Balanchine and led the Kansas City Ballet in Kansas City, Missouri, from 1980 to 1995.
Born in Canton, Ohio, on February 27, 1914, Bolender grew up in a family in which the arts, music and theater in particular, were an important part of life. The extremely lively child—one of four—was early on dubbed the dancer of the family and his physical energy channeled in lessons in acrobatic tap. In 1931, when he was 17, Bolender went to New York, which he said in an interview in 2002 seemed to him like a “kind of heaven”, to study theatrical dance. In 1933 he moved to New York for good, taking up full-time residence there at about the same time George Balanchine arrived in this country.
Attendance at a concert by Mary Wigman led Bolender to Hanya Holm, who he said later saved him from bad teaching. Social acquaintance with Balanchine, however, made a strong impression. Under Balanchine’s supervision, Bolender studied at the fledgling School of American Ballet with such Russian teachers as Pierre Vladimiroff, Felia Dubrovska, Anatole Oboukhoff and Ludmilla Schollar. He also trained with Muriel Stuart and, pursuing a strong interest in modern dance, studied with Louis Horst and Harald Kreutzberg. The two greatest influences on his choreography, Bolender was to say later, were Wigman and Uday Shankar, both of whom he saw perform in New York in the early thirties, along with Kreutzberg. Asked why he became a ballet dancer, Bolender said simply it was the Depression and he needed a job.
As a dancer, Bolender had an unusually long career, lasting from 1936 to 1972 when he performed onstage for the last time in New York City Ballet’s Stravinsky Festival, for which he also choreographed two pieces, Serenade in A and Piano-Rag-Music . Not only was he a member of every permutation of the company that became New York City Ballet, he also danced with Littlefield Ballet in the late thirties, performing in Catherine Littlefield’s Barn Dance and the first American Sleeping Beauty . He performed with Les Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo for one season (1945-46) and with Ballet Theatre for four months in 1944 before being sidelined with an injury.
Bolender was a versatile dancer, originating roles in the work of Balanchine — most notably Four Temperaments , Renard , and Agon — and in much of the choreography of Jerome Robbins as well. In Lew Christensen’s work, he originated the State Trooper in Filling Station and Alias in Billy the Kid . Critic and historian Doris Hering, writing in the International Dictionary of the Ballet calls him “a superb comedian with a penchant for high camp.” Describing him in Jerome Robbins’ The Concert , she writes: “[he] was a henpecked husband who constantly escaped into daydreams of sexual conquest. Clad in a vest and long underwear and chewing on a huge cigar, he was the prototype of ... J. Walter Mitty.” Longtime New York City Ballet observer Robert Garis said of him in Agon, “[his] easy wit and charm in the first pas de trois seem unrecapturable” (ibid.)
Mother Goose Suite , made in 1943, was the first of some three dozen ballets Bolender made in the course of his long career, eleven of them for New York City Ballet. Bolender’s choreography is in the repertoires of Kansas City Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His best known works, both of which are still in active repertoire, are Souvenirs and The Still Point, both made in 1955.
Todd Bolender's illustrious career allotted him the opportunity to work and cultivate relationships with Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and Samuel Barber.
While the bulk of his choreography was for ballet companies, Bolender also choreographed for musical theater, opera and television, starting in 1952 with Time Remembered for Albi Marre Productions. In 1969, he choreographed The Conquering Hero, followed by Cry for Us All in 1970. In Turkey, where he worked in the seventies, Bolender choreographed My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha , and Showboat. In Kansas City, he choreographed for many operas, including Samson and Delilah for which the dancing got a better review than the singing.
Bolender taught throughout his career in New York and as a guest teacher all over the United States as well as in Turkey, Japan, Austria, and Germany. From 1963 to 1966, he was ballet director for the Cologne Opera House and from 1966-69 he filled the same role in Frankfurt. With Janet Reed he was a founding director of Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1975 and for three years starting in 1977 he was ballet director in the Atatürk Opera House.
Todd Bolender’s appointment as Artistic Director in the winter of 1981 opened a new chapter of opportunity for the Kansas City Ballet. Confident that a broader community support for classical ballet might be found, Bolender had a vision to build a company, a repertoire, and a school in the nation's heartland. Bolender did all three and at an age when most people have retired
Bolender became Artistic Director Emeritus in 1996 when he retired from Kansas City Ballet and William Whitener took over as Artistic Director. In the fall of 1997, Bolender was invited to New York by the George Balanchine Foundation to officially document for videotape the choreography of the solo that Balanchine created for him in The Four Temperaments. Bolender who created the role of the Fox in the original 1947 production of Renard, resurrected this piece, which had initially vanished for a half century, in 2001 for Kansas City Ballet. Bolender has built a foundation of quality and grand proportion, scarcely imaginable in 1981 and now can enjoy the fruits of his own continuing creativity.
He was active in the preservation of Balanchine’s work, coaching dancers in his roles in the repertoire for the Balanchine Foundation’s Film Archive and reconstructing Renard for the Kansas City Ballet in 1998 as part of the Stravinsky Festival. In 2006, Bolender was awarded the Dance Magazine Award for his lifetime achievement in dance.
Just weeks before he was to receive the award, Bolender died on October 12, 2006, at age 92 from complications related to a stroke.
The Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity opened on August 26, 2011. The building is the new home for the Kansas City Ballet and the Ballet School.
After 34 successful years, Kansas City Ballet performed its final Nutcracker featuring choreography by Todd Bolender during the 2014 winter season.
George Balanchine was a Georgian American ballet choreographer, recognized as one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th-century. Styled as the father of American ballet, he co-founded the New York City Ballet and remained its artistic director for more than 35 years. His choreography is characterized by plotless ballets with minimal costume and décor, performed to classical and neoclassical music.
New York City Ballet (NYCB) is a ballet company founded in 1948 by choreographer George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. Balanchine and Jerome Robbins are considered the founding choreographers of the company. Léon Barzin was the company's first music director. City Ballet grew out of earlier troupes: the Producing Company of the School of American Ballet, 1934; the American Ballet, 1935, and Ballet Caravan, 1936, which merged into American Ballet Caravan, 1941; and directly from the Ballet Society, 1946.
Bronislava Nijinska was a Russian ballet dancer of Polish origin, and an innovative choreographer. She came of age in a family of traveling, professional dancers.
Neoclassical ballet is the style of 20th-century classical ballet exemplified by the works of George Balanchine. The term "neoclassical ballet" appears in the 1920s with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, in response to the excesses of romanticism and post-romantic modernism. It draws on the advanced technique of 19th-century Russian Imperial dance, but strips it of its detailed narrative and heavy theatrical setting while retaining many key techniques, such as pointe technique.
The Firebird is a ballet and orchestral concert work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was written for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company; the original choreography was by Michel Fokine, who collaborated with Alexandre Benois and others on a scenario based on the Russian fairy tales of the Firebird and the blessing and curse it possesses for its owner. The Firebird was first performed at the Opéra de Paris on 25 June 1910 and was an immediate success, catapulting Stravinsky to international fame, and leading to future Diaghilev-Stravinsky collaborations like Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company begun in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. The company never performed in Russia, where the Revolution disrupted society. After its initial Paris season, the company had no formal ties there.
The company Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo was formed in 1932 after the death of Sergei Diaghilev and the demise of Ballets Russes. Its director was Wassily de Basil, and its artistic director was René Blum. They fell out in 1936 and the company split. The part which de Basil retained went through two name changes before becoming the Original Ballet Russe. Blum founded Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, which changed its name to Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when Léonide Massine became artistic director in 1938. It operated under this name until it disbanded some 20 years later.
Apollo is a neoclassical ballet in two tableaux composed between 1927 and 1928 by Igor Stravinsky. It was choreographed in 1928 by twenty-four-year-old George Balanchine, with the composer contributing the libretto. The scenery and costumes were designed by André Bauchant, with new costumes by Coco Chanel in 1929. The scenery was executed by Alexander Shervashidze, with costumes under the direction of Mme. A. Youkine. The American patron of the arts Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge had commissioned the ballet in 1927 for a festival of contemporary music to be held the following year at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Nicholas Magallanes was a Mexican-born American principal dancer and charter member of the New York City Ballet. Along with Francisco Moncion, Maria Tallchief, and Tanaquil Le Clercq, Magallanes was among the core group of dancers with which George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein formed Ballet Society, the immediate predecessor of the New York City Ballet.
John Taras was an American ballet master, repetiteur, and choreographer.
Agon is a 22-minute ballet for twelve dancers with music by Igor Stravinsky. It was choreographed by George Balanchine. Stravinsky began composition in December 1953 but was interrupted the next year; he resumed work in 1956 and concluded on April 27, 1957. The music was premiered in Los Angeles at UCLA's Royce Hall on June 17, 1957, conducted by Robert Craft. Stravinsky himself conducted the sessions for the work's first recording the following day on June 18, 1957. Agon was first performed on stage by the New York City Ballet at the City Center of Music and Drama on December 1, 1957.
Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant was written by Igor Stravinsky in 1942. He composed it for a ballet production that the choreographer George Balanchine did for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The ballet was performed by fifty elephants and fifty ballerinas. In 1944, Stravinsky published an orchestration of the piece, which is now part of the repertoire of many orchestras.
Mozartiana is a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine to Tchaikovsky's Orchestral Suite No. 4, Mozartiana. The current version of the ballet was made for New York City Ballet's Tchaikovsky Festival, and premiered on June 4, 1981, at the New York State Theater. It is considered Balanchine's last major work.
Concerto Barocco is a neoclassical ballet choreographed by George Balanchine to Bach's Concerto for Two Violins. Danced by a cast of eleven, the ballet is completely plotless, and according to Balanchine, "has no "subject matter" beyond the score which it is danced and the particular dancers who execute it". The ballet was made for the American Ballet Caravan's 1941 South American tour, and premiered on June 27, 1941, at Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro. The ballet has entered the repertories of many ballet companies, including Balanchine's New York City Ballet.
The Kansas City Ballet (KCB) is a professional ballet company based in Kansas City, Missouri. The company was founded in 1957 by Russian expatriate Tatiana Dokoudovska. The KCB presents five major performances each season to include an annual production of The Nutcracker. The KCB, its school, and its staff are all housed in, operate from, and rehearse at the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, a renovated, seven-studio, office, and rehearsal facility in Kansas City, Missouri, that opened in August 2011. The company performs at and is the resident ballet company at the nearby Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a performance venue in downtown Kansas City that opened in September 2011.
Scherzo à la Russe is a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine to Stravinsky's music of the same name. The ballet was created for New York City Ballet's Stravinsky Festival, a tribute to the composer after his death, and premiered on June 21, 1972, at the New York State Theater, with the two lead roles originated by Karin von Aroldingen and Kay Mazzo.
Danses concertantes is the title of a work for chamber orchestra written in 1941–42 by Igor Stravinsky, commissioned by Werner Janssen. Stravinsky's music has been used for eponymous ballets by numerous choreographers attracted by its danceability.
Leon Woizikovsky, originally Léon Wójcikowski was a Polish dancer and ballet master, and later choreographer and teacher. He first came to prominence as a member of the Ballets Russes. Later he worked with various ballet companies, e.g., Pavlova, de Basil, de Valois, Ballet Polonaise, Massine, the London Festival, the Royal Flemish.
Stravinsky Violin Concerto, originally titled Violin Concerto, is a neoclassical ballet choreographed by George Balanchine to Stravinsky's Violin Concerto. Balanchine had previously choreographed another ballet to the concerto in 1941 for the Original Ballet Russe, titled Balustrade, though it was not revived following a few performances. He then reused the concerto for New York City Ballet's Stravinsky Festival in 1972, a tribute to the composer following his death. The ballet premiered on June 18, 1972, at the New York State Theater.
Lois Bewley (1934–2012) was an American dancer, choreographer and designer. She studied at the School of American Ballet before joining the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo. After touring with the American Ballet Theatre and the dance companies of Alicia Markova and Jerome Robbins, she joined the New York City Ballet in 1960. Regarded as the "clown princess of dance", she co-founded the First Chamber Dance Quartet and choreographed original ballets and dance pieces. She also worked as an opera director, costume designer and set designer.