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Paying homage to my dear friend Kim over these last few entries has been one of the biggest joys of my life. Now, with a bit of sadness, I complete the series with a final article; this past weekend, I had the privilege to travel back to Kansas City and bid Kim farewell as Kansas City Ballet’s longest reigning ballerina.

This is not meant to be a dance critique, but it would be a crime if I didn’t spend at least a few sentences stating how amazed I was by the company and their growth over the last two years–since I parted ways with KCB.  The performance was a stunning evening of Balanchine’s Serenade, Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun, Martins’ Les Gentilhommes and Bolender’s Souvenirs, showcasing the KCB dancers’ virtuosity and artistry.  I had the privilege of seeing two performances with two different casts, both of which danced brilliantly.  Bravo!

As the “Russian Girl” in Serenade, Kim dazzled with her precise footwork, suspended ballon, and classical grace.  As the “Vamp” in Souvenirs, she brought the house down with her comedic, man-eating ferociousness, taunting and teasing both her partner and the audience with every perfectly timed and calculated move she made.

However, the true story I want to share is not what happened on stage during her performance, but what happened after.  Kim was given a true ballerina send-off.  As the stage cleared and she took her final bow, the entire roster of company dancers placed a bouquet of flowers at her feet.  They were followed by several former KCB dancers–including myself–who had the honor of working in the studio and onstage with Kim, as well as past and current board presidents, the artistic and executive staff, and, most notably, her family.  Tenderly, she embraced each and every person.  As she locked eyes with me, I saw even more confidence than I had ever seen in her.  There seemed to be a calm, prideful sense of satisfaction that can only come when one has completed the most amazing journey of their life.

After the performance, a private reception was held in her honor in the lobby of the exquisite Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.  There, the dancers presented her with a frame, which showcased a piece of the old stage from the Lyric Theatre where Kim danced the majority of her career.  Behind it were signatures of over a hundred people who had danced with and been touched by Kim during her time there; even Todd Bolender’s signature was there.  The ballet gave her a “memory book” of photos and letters from family, friend,s and fans.

The highlight of the event was, naturally, Kim herself.  Without losing an ounce of the poise or grace characteristic of her, Kim gave a charming speech.  All too modestly, she thanked everyone who had been monumental in her life and career.  She then thanked “all of the men who have partnered me over the years.”  Without blinking, she proceeded to made a crack about how at least one of us had “not minded letting her lead.”  The audience erupted in laughter.

Kimberly Cowen's Final Bow Photo Courtesy of kcdance.com

Few can compare to Kim’s personal and professional eloquence.  Twenty years in the same ballet company is a feat in itself, but to dance for that long and have so many people feel that they actually know her and have wonderful things to say about her is the true accomplishment.  Kim stepped onto the stage as a real person, graced it with perfection as a ballerina, and stepped off of it with even more beauty than ever. Her legacy not only lies in the work that she left behind her, but in the example she sets for everyone around her.

I had a hard time watching the shows this weekend.  While I enjoyed them immensely, it was hard to say goodbye.  It could not hold my tears back as I watched Kim take each step.  Watched her connect with each dancer, I imagined what an experience it must have been for them and I hope they treasure those moments.  I am more than honored to have been a part of her life. She taught me more than I ever learned in all of my training as a dancer, and I am forever thankful to her.

To go back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this entry, Kim’s story is just beginning. I can’t wait to write more about her as time goes on, and I guarantee I won’t be the only one.

Kimberly takes one more bow at her reception. Photo courtesy of kcstage.com

 

Written by Matthew Donnell

Matthew Donnell

A graduate of North Carolina School of the arts, Matthew Donnell is a freelance dancer, actor, clown, instructor, and film maker residing in NYC. After a decade with the Kansas City Ballet, he turned his focus toward musical theater and teaching. He strives to bring the humor of his life into his art in order to promote artistic health for himself and those around him.