After more than three decades in dance and 20 years with the company, Cowen has decided it's the "right time" to retire. In a statement released Wednesday:
William Whitener, Artistic Director of the Kansas City Ballet: “It has been a great pleasure to work with Kimberly Cowen for the past 16 years. She is an inspiration to all who have encountered her as an artist and human being.
“Kimberly is a rare individual who personifies the most eloquent elements of dance. Her artistry, musicality and range of expression have touched countless audiences and dancers. I am certain she will continue to contribute enormously to the world of dance. Bravo to a distinguished and beautiful career!”
Jeffrey J. Bentley, Executive Director, added that a future role for Cowen in the organization is under discussion:
“Kim Cowen’s value to Kansas City Ballet cannot be overstated. There have been conversations for some time regarding her future once she determined it was the right moment for her to complete her stage career. We have no intention of missing an opportunity to continue benefiting from the enormous reservoir of respect, recognition, even adoration, that Kim has built in this community over the past two decades. She is a consummate artist, colleague and dear friend. We hope to keep her very close to us into the future.”
Kimberly Cowen grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where she started dance classes at the age of 4. Cowen was 12 - and describes herself as stick-thin - when she first met Todd Bolender at a State Ballet of Missouri summer program. They kept in touch as she studied with the St. Louis Ballet, Northwest Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. And in 1991, at the age of 17, she joined the State Ballet, now known as the Kansas City Ballet.
As an artistic director, Bolender was a mentor to Cowen. She says he challenged dancers to rise to a new level.
"I felt like I connected to him in a lot of ways because he was a technician," says Cowen. "He was always demanding a lot from us, from our technique, how we used our feet, and the timing of music."
With high cheekbones and a quick smile, Cowen’s known for her detailed solos, her versatility, airy jumps and acting abilities. Critic Paul Horsley once called her “one of the most singularly thrilling ballerinas Kansas City has ever seen.” Cowen says she’s lucky; she’s stayed healthy with only a few injuries. She's had moments where she’s thought about retiring, but it didn’t feel like it was time. Until now.
"And all of a sudden I just thought, you know, I think it’s the right time," says Cowen. "I can go out on top, knowing I’ve been able to do everything I ever wanted."
Cowen estimates she’s danced in 100 different ballets. This includes 16 choreographed by the late Todd Bolender and a dozen choreographed by William Whitener, the company’s artistic director since 1996. Whitener created leading roles for Cowen in many of his ballets, including one of her favorites: Carmen. This season, she danced the title role in Giselle, the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and she’ll appear as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.
"I feel like there are so many talented dancers out there that don’t always find the right fit. They’re constantly searching for a place where they fit in," says Cowen. "And I just feel lucky that I found a place that I fit into , that people here wanted to nurture me and help me grow as an artist, and I was really able to spread my wings and try a lot of different things."
For now, Cowen says, her future is uncertain. She’s taught at the Kansas City Ballet School for a decade and hopes to continue. Talks are still in the works.
"Everyone has said to me, 'Well, you don’t have to stop dancing,' 'You can keep dancing,' 'We hope you keep dancing,' and I have no idea."
The final program of the Kansas City Ballet season will hold special significance for Cowen, including the Bolender ballet, Souvenirs, a comic sketch about silent films; and Balanchine’s Serenade, a work Cowen describes as dancing for the sake of loving dance.
"When you’re doing the ballet, you just feel so much joy. There’s so much movement," says Cowen. "So I think it will be a fun way to kind of tie that up in a bow. (It's) the best of both worlds: dancing and a little bit more on the theatrical side."
For a slideshow of images of Kimberly Cowen through the years, check here.
The Kansas City Ballet presents "Romeo and Juliet," February 17 - 26, 2012. Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. There are two casts playing Romeo and Juliet: Anthony Krutzkamp and Kimberly Cowen, and Luke Luzicka and Angelina Sansone.