This year, the Kansas City Ballet launched a second company called KCB II. It’s a selective program – there are only five dancers in the ensemble – and they're charged with taking dance out into the community.
Creating a role for dance in the community
It’s late afternoon in the grand hall of Union Station and a large crowd has gathered at the foot of a temporary stage. Two dancers from KCB II, Kansas City Ballet’s second company, are dressed in red and gold hued Spanish costumes. They spin onstage in a pas de deux from The Nutcracker.
In its inaugural season, KCB II has been showing up in some unusual places - both indoors and out - from Union Station to the Plaza lighting ceremony.
"We act as the second company, up and coming professionals to the main company," says Morgan Sicklick, one of the five dancers in the new second company. "So we’re there to follow in their footsteps, learn alongside of them, watch and observe to, you know, pick up the movement and mature as artists. So that’s kind of our role in the company."
Sicklick says the role of KCB II also extends to "community outreach that the main company can’t do. So we are getting the word out to the community about KC Ballet."
‘Everyone was really welcoming'
Dancer Morgan Sicklick is from New Jersey and says feeling welcomed into the new company has helped her settle in.
"What struck me the most the first day I came in here was just the warmth and friendliness from all the company dancers, the artistic staff, anyone else on the staff," says Sicklick. "Anyone you saw in the building was really welcoming and and really welcoming and really excited that we were here and just made us feel really comfortable.
"Because this is my first professional job so there is always a little bit of nerves and kind of not knowing what to expect, especially since the second company is brand new."
Answering probing questions about dance
Curiosity about ballet - and all its trappings - can lead to many questions.
"Some people, well, the first thing they ask is sometimes, ‘How old are you?’ or ‘How long have you been dancing?’ and sometimes if we are wearing a particular costume they’ll ask about that, how it’s made," says KCB II's Morgan Sicklick. "Sometimes the point shoe question comes up, you know. ‘What are they? Do they hurt?’ (laughs) I think those are probably the main ones. ‘Are you enjoying it?’ Yes, definitely' (laughs)."
Bringing that ‘wow factor’ to new audiences
It’s this chance to engage with new audiences that appealed to Colorado native and KCB II dancer Meagan Swisher.
"Sometimes it’s really easy to forget that, that not everybody knows what point shoes look like, what tutus look like and it’s nice to bring that wow factor out to people who may not have ever seen it before," Swisher says. "So that’s a fun part of what we get to do in all of these field trips and all of these outreach adventures, if you will."
Loving what they do
Seeing the company perform often sparks an interest in dance. But Meagan Swisher says the discipline required to become a professional dancer is not for everyone.
"You have to want to make that effort and if you don’t love the ballet and that dedication then I would never suggest that you go into what we do," Swisher says. "But I think that I love it.
"And that’s what we go through every day to overcome the obstacles of what we put our bodies through and what we put our minds through to be able to have those moments on stage in the spotlight and just have that magical moment that basically that four-year-old girl always dreams of. And, you know, I am very blessed that that’s what I get to do."
Inspiring dancers of tomorrow
Rochelle Chang was born and raised in Hawaii. Chang says she often finds herself thinking about the potential future dancers in the audience.
"Thinking that a young child looks up to us as dancers is a very special opportunity for us," Chang says. "It’s a cool idea to think that we, as ambassadors of Kansas City Ballet, can help spark a child’s interest in the arts."
‘Like a dream come true’
Even after being a member of the KCB II company for several months, Chang says she's still pinching herself.
"I’m just still slowly realizing that I’m actually living in Kansas City and it’s not just, what the word, it’s just not, It’s like a dream come true," she says.
And at Union Station where the dancers on stage make their final bows, it does seem something like a dream.