A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Kansas City Ballet’s Ballet Master Kristi Capps’ ballet training includes the School of American Ballet, Harid Conservatory and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. While at UNCSA, she was chosen to study and perform with the Hungarian State Ballet School in Budapest, Hungary. Upon her graduation, Kristi was a member of the Atlanta Ballet for three seasons and then joined Cincinnati Ballet. In 2013, Kristi Capps accepted a new career path with Kansas City Ballet’s artistic staff as ballet master.
Tell us a little about your career and how you transitioned from dancer to teacher to ballet master.
I formally was a Principal dancer with Cincinnati Ballet where I danced for 15 seasons. Devon Carney was the ballet master and then the associate artistic director with the company while I was there, so I was fortunate to work closely with him. I had retired and was living in Denver, teaching ballet and going to school towards a degree in evolutionary biology. Devon asked me if I would like to come to KC to be the ballet master in residence for the company’s production of Dracula. Then we spoke about the possibility of me joining the following season as one of the ballet masters.
What did/do you enjoy about each role you’ve had (dancer/teacher/ballet master)?
As a dancer I always loved figuring out the puzzle—meaning why a particular step or combination of steps were or were not working. I also extremely loved performing and becoming a different role or person. Music always drove me, and I enjoyed playing with the music and tempos as a dancer.
As a teacher and ballet master again, it’s figuring out the puzzle and helping to assist a dancer in finding what works for them best. It’s also so fun watching a dancer take on a role and allowing it to become theirs.
What do you find challenging?
Honestly there’s quite a few challenges with being a ballet master. One is that I am literally with the dancers every day of their season and some days it can be the exact same dancers every hour of that day. Dancers are so incredibly hard working and passionate about what they do and in any single moment, everyone is important. Where it can become challenging is when you have a room full of very important people it becomes hard to keep everyone happy and inspired in the way they need. I’m learning that it is such a balance. Some dancers learn slower than others, some count, some don’t count, some are super specific, some less, some are sore from the hour before, some had the hour before off. In any rehearsal hour, everyone is in a different place in their day physically, so to keep the rehearsal productive you need to read the room and every dancer in it.
Who inspired you to dance, to teach?
The Nutcracker inspired me to dance! In particular Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshinikov. As far as teaching, I never aspired to be one actually. It kind of just happened early in my career as a dancer and I enjoyed it. I also always felt that I had so many wonderful teachers and coaches along way like Melissa Hayden, Patricia McBride, and Violette Verdy that how could I not share what I learned from them with others?
What did you find exciting about the opportunity to come to KCB?
Of course working with Devon again was the biggest draw. He’s always been a mentor to me and still is. I was also super impressed with the talent of the dancers and how incredibly supportive and organized the company was.
What has surprised you most about the city/company since you arrived in 2013?
The biggest surprise is probably the support from the community that the ballet has received and is continuing to receive more and more. It has been wonderful being a part of successful productions such as Dracula, The Three Musketeers, Swan Lake, and now, most recently, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hearing the audiences and seeing our full houses at the theater for performances is so inspiring and exciting.
What drives you?
I’ve always been a driven person but the first thing I think of now is my son. I think most dancers naturally are driven. You just have to be. But, now I’m probably driven to show him (my son) that hard work is important, to inspire him to be anything he wants to be, and to try to help make the world he is growing up in a better place.
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote or personal mantra? If so, what is it and why?
One of my favorite quotes is: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
My personal Mantra is: “Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu”. It’s Sanskit for: “May all beings be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
I have both in my office at KCB.
What have been some of your favorite projects to work on since you got here?
Being a part of the creative processes of our new Nutcracker and Swan Lake have been great. Devon is so creative with patterns and musicality that it is fun to watch what he comes up with. Also working with the dancers on Helen Pickett’s Petal last spring was wonderful. Seeing them blossom and grow (no pun intended) as dancers and people throughout the process was inspiring.
What excites you most about this season?
Everything really! I’m excited for our second year of Devon’s new Nutcracker. I can’t wait to see our beautiful women conquer The Sleeping Beauty but probably most of all would be watching the company perform Theme and Variations. It’s probably one of my all-time favorite ballets.
To read more about Kristi, check out her bio.
Photography: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios