Kansas City Ballet Executive Director to Retire Next Year: ’25 Years Ringed Right’ | KCUR 89.3
Sometimes it’s all about timing.
“This will be my 25th year with the company,” says Kansas City Ballet executive director Jeff Bentley, “and, you know, I’m about 70, so, you know, it felt like the right time.”
Bentley has held the executive position since 1998.
He has 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, more recently, COVID-19.
During the pandemic shutdown, the company kept dancers and staff employed to present two dozen new ballets online.
Resigning in 2023, Bentley says, “it felt like the right time and 25 years sounded good.”
Bentley describes the Todd Bolender Center of Dance and Creativity as a “point of pride”. He was part of the management team that “saw the promise of this old, decrepit building” west of Union Station.
The former power plant has been renovated into a 60,000 square foot home for Kansas City Ballet, with seven studios, rehearsal space and a 180-seat theater. Named after former creative director Todd Bolender, it opened in August 2011.
This milestone, along with the opening of the Kauffman Center, allowed the company to grow and “become a cultural institution in the city,” says Bentley.
“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’m very proud of it because dancing has been my life since I was a child. So that, all of that makes me feel good.
Bentley grew up in Patterson, New Jersey, and was inspired to start dancing at age eight after his mother took him to see New York City Ballet’s “Apollo” production.
“I went home after that show,” he recalls, “and I wanted to dance, I wanted to take dance lessons. And mom found a way to make it happen.
He aspired to be a professional dancer and trained as a scholarship student at the America Ballet Center and the School of the American Ballet. But in 1967, he enlisted in the US Army. After touring Vietnam, her career path shifted towards arts administration.
Prior to arriving in Kansas City in 1998, he held executive positions with dance and theater companies in Seattle, Washington; Chicago and Evanston, Ill.; Eugene, Oregon; Aspen, Colorado; and Winnipeg, Canada.
Bentley is credited with guiding the growth and financial stability of Kansas City Ballet. He served with two art directors, including current art director Devon Carney.
During Bentley’s tenure, the company’s budget grew from $1.2 million to $9.5 million; the school grew from 150 students to 650 students in two locations in Kansas City, Missouri, and Johnson County, Kansas. He also helped build a $10 million endowment, to date with a $30 million endowment campaign.
Bentley plans to stay until June 2023 and hopes to share some institutional knowledge with the next person who takes the job. And the longevity of its senior executives, some of whom predate its own recruitment, ensures its transmission.
“I honestly believe that no one does anything like this, or almost anything, frankly, on their own,” he says. “One of the things I’m going to miss the most is the people I work with on a daily basis.”
The Kansas City Ballet has created a committee to conduct a nationwide search for a new executive director.