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Todd Bolender has died

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Google alerted me to this sad news. Bolender came to New York during 2004 and participated in several events during the Balanchine centenary. At Symphony Space, a reconstruction of his Stravinsky ballet, "Renard" was presented, and he was at the Guggenheim for a Works and Process evening, coaching the role he originated in "the Four Temperments." I remember his "Souvenirs" from City Center when I was a kid. It must have had a silly streak because I remember really enjoying the 1920's-ish bathing suits, and laughing a lot.

Here is the link:


.....and a short quote:

KC ballet icon dies


The Kansas City Star

"Todd Bolender, the legendary American dancer and choreographer who led the Kansas City Ballet to prominence from 1981 to 1996, died today in Kansas City of complications from a stroke. He was 92.

Born at the dawn of World War I, Bolender was one of the last surviving members of a generation of dancers who worked with George Balanchine during the pioneering Russian-born choreographer’s American work, considered the foundation of contemporary dance."

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I just passed the sad news on this evening to a former Harkness dancer who remembered working with him on Souvenirs. (She was a wall flower, apparently... sounded like fun.) I wish someone would put together a memorial tribute DVD of his work. Does Souvenirs exist on video? I'd love to see it again.

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It's not on any commerically available tape from here, but PNB has the work in their rep -- it's quite charming.

Amy, thank you for posting the link to the Kansas City obit. There are several heartfelt comments in the guestbook section from former dancers and students.

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Unlike Villella, McBride/Bonnefous, Hayden, Tomasson, and Russell/Stowell, who've gotten recognition in the last decade, Bolender was of the pioneer generation working between coasts when New York was the practically the only recognized place on the US dance map, and the descriptions "regional" and "second-rate" were considered synonymous.

It's great to see the tributes to Bolender from the dance community he nurtured in a national news vacuum.

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I recently saw Bolender dancing the Rich Boy in a DVD of a 1954 tv peformance. (Jacques d'Amboise DVD). The role is small, and the Boy is overshadowed by his hyperactive and rather drunk Rich Girl friend, Janet Reed. But he was very nice to see, his flowing movements very easy on the eye. Even this small part confirmed the following, from the obit:

But it was as a Balanchine dancer that he was revered in the dance world. Many observers commented on the similarity of Bolender's body and style of movement to Balanchine's. Historian Doris Hering in the International Dictionary of Ballet called Bolender "a superb comedian with a penchant for high camp."

"There was a facility in my body, a looseness, a rubbery quality," the 5-foot-8-inch dancer told The Star in 2003.

I also remember Bolender's "Souvenirs," but from NYCB's old City Center days. He also choreographed a funny, jazzy story to "Creation du Monde" which was a lot of fun and had a super role for Villella. Arthur Mitchell was a sly, sexy, seductive Serpent in the Garden. I still remember the huge and enthusiastic audience reaction to both.

I think that "Still Point," in a more serious vein, should definitely be more widely revived. Melissa Hayden's comments on working with Bolender on that can be found in Nancy Reynolds' Repertory in Review. Here's a sample:

He was very detailed, very subtle. My whole body was to express my feelings -- if I was pained, it should be through my whole body in a physical sense, rather than just on my face, which I would say was physical but very superficial. He noticed shoulders, hands; he was very constructive."
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The ballet in which he played the "Rich Boy" is Lew Christensen's (SFB) "Filling Station." Mr. Bolender came to SFB in the 70s to stage his delighftul "Souvenirs". I was the "Wallflower"...I remember enjoying working with him. I'm sorry to read of his passing. I hope "Souvenirs" lives on...It's an American classic.

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The ballet in which he played the "Rich Boy" is Lew Christensen's (SFB) "Filling Station."
Bolender's performance, with Janet Reed as "Rich Girl," is included in the new DVD "Jacques D'Amboise: Portrait of a Great American Dancer/Portrait d'un grand danseur américain."
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The New York Times has finally posted an obit - and though I imagine it's been posted in "Links," I'll include it in this thread as well, since it's relevant:


What a rich life he had!

Here's a juicy quote:

"Mr. Bolender became part of ballet history through his memorable performance in “The Four Temperaments,” the 1946 experimental ballet Balanchine choreographed to a commissioned Hindemith score. Kirstein summed up the physical image projected by Mr. Bolender’s dancing in his book “Thirty Years: The New York City Ballet” when he described his performance in the ballet’s “Phlegmatic” solo: “Todd Bolender, whose supple body and tubular limbs were remarkably serpentine, made a powerful impression as a fluidly sluggish acrobatic mendicant.”

Although Mr. Bolender’s dancing had a dramatic tinge that was felt in the 36 ballets he choreographed for City Ballet and elsewhere, Balanchine also used him early on in one of his purest plotless neo-Classical ballets, “Symphonie Concertante.” Balanchine created the work for his School of American Ballet and cast Mr. Bolender as the sole male and sole professional. When the work was transferred to Ballet Society, in 1947, Mr. Bolender continued in the role. "

The obit is credited to Anna Kisselgoff.

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Yes, thank you very much for posting this, Leigh. I saw Agon in one of its earlier performances and have always wondered how the dancers handled the complex rhythmic demands. Bollender answer my quesetions, and incidentally tells us something about his own individual approach to dancing:

Was the ballet set to counts - were the counts of the ballet always the counts of the score, or did it have an independent rhythm? Were counts added later?

"I got to a point where I simply gave up counting. He taught it to counts, but they were always so peculiar" Milly [Melissa Hayden] and Diana [Adams] insisted on counting - and they were insistent about their correctness. They were counting on stage "to the bitter end." He remembers hearing them hiss their final count under their breath as they took the last pose with the arm across the chest in the opening. "I finally did it primarily by ear, sometimes it would be necessary to close your ears to their counts. I almost never counted anything ever." For the variation, he did it by listening, the relationship to the music was so specific.

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A memorial service will be held this week in Kansas City. At the tribute on Monday night to Melissa Hayden, Jacques d'Amboise mentioned that he will be hosting this event. He said he's beginning to feel like "Mr. Memorial."

Posted on Tue, Dec. 05, 2006


A community tribute to Bolender

Legendary dancer to help host an evening of remembrance for legendary choreographer.


The Kansas City Star

Todd Bolender died Oct. 12, but it’s still hard to believe he won’t be popping in to check on the Kansas City Ballet dancers during this year’s “Nutcracker.”

Bolender’s family and friends held a private memorial service in October instead of a public funeral. But this week the Ballet hosts a public tribute to the dancer, choreographer and teacher that will include comments from colleagues and performances by Ballet company members and others.

The tribute, at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Music Hall, 201 W. 13th St., is open to the public.

. . .

The tribute will be guest hosted by Jacques d’Amboise, the legendary dancer who met Bolender at age 12 and was later a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.

. . .

The program will include excerpts of Bolender’s choreography from “Souvenirs,” “The Nutcracker” and “Chopin Piano Pieces,” accompanied by Ballet music director Ramona Pansegrau and musicians from the Kansas City Symphony, whose services the Symphony has donated to the event.

Featured speakers include Robert Barnett, former artistic director of Atlanta Ballet; Sally Brayley Bliss, former director of Dance St. Louis; Sarah Rowland, a local philanthropist who was among those responsible for bringing Bolender to Kansas City; William Whitener, current Kansas City Ballet artistic director; and James Jordan, a former Bolender dancer and current ballet master with the company.

. . .

A tribute to choreographer/dancer Todd Bolender will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Music Hall, 201 W. 13th St. It is free and open to the public.

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