With classical story ballets, the choreography is made up of traditional steps ballet dancers do every day, like jetés and arabesques. The movements work together to tell the story. So, while there are ways to make combinations of steps unique, they tend to follow a similar narrative path.
This month, Kansas City Ballet premieres Devon Carney’s Cinderella choreography. Rehearsal Director Kristi Capps and Devon have a shared Cinderella history having danced in the Cincinnati Ballet’s version previously. Kristi, a former principal dancer in Cincinnati, danced the title role with Devon portraying her father.
Working to bring Devon’s vision to the stage, Kristi explains, “He lays out the groundwork specifically. After he’s taught the initial choreography, he won’t see it again for a while. So, I work with the dancers on what he choreographed. I know his style and the integrity he wants in his steps.”
Kristi emphasizes, “His counts are the most important thing because works can be counted in many different ways. And Prokofiev is one of the hardest ballet composers to count.”
While she’s observing Devon create in the studio, she’ll make basic notes and diagrams. Only after they film the rehearsal will she write the whole section down. “I’ve learned now not to write it down right away because it changes. And by the end of it we’ll have some sort of Cinderella book written down so any stager would know the counts and choreography,” Kristi says.
As a former principal female dancer, Kristi also brings the female “pointe” of view as well. “I help refine the technique. It’s fun. I like that part. It’s always raw at the beginning. A lot he (Devon) comes up with on the spot based on the dancers in the room.”
Not all stagers are that specific. She says stagers share counts and counting structure but that it is up to the rehearsal directors to take their own notes and record video. That way they can take the rehearsal reigns when the stager’s visit is over.
Charting a Path
“This job has no training,” Kristi admits of her rehearsal director role. “You figure it out on the fly. You figure out how to be a manager, how to teach ballets, to make schedules, and have an eye to check that things are done.”
When she was a dancer, she had told herself she would never be a rehearsal director. After retiring she’d moved to Colorado and was studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Devon came to town to see some ballet and invited her to dinner. There he offered her a chance to help him as rehearsal director for Michael Pink’s Dracula in February of 2014—his first season as the new Artistic Director of Kansas City Ballet. The current rehearsal director, James Jordan, was acting in Dracula as Van Helsing. So, they needed the help. Kristi agreed. After that, she stayed on for Victoria Morgan’s Cinderella that spring as well. When Devon offered her a permanent position, she accepted.
As soon as she became a rehearsal director she called her former rehearsal director and apologized. She had begun to understand why the woman had had to shut down some of her emotions. “All I do is think about these dancers all day long and what I can do to help them to succeed,” Kristi shares. “That’s the hardest part. There’s a lot more to this job. You can’t let it all get to you or you’ll lose your passion.”
Worth the Work
Now, after nine years, she feels much more confident in her role. Her advice to new rehearsal directors: “You’re in a room full of passionate individuals that are working their hardest, and you’re giving them corrections. That leads to a lot of feelings and emotions. If you let them get to you, you won’t last long. Every single one wants to be the best version of themselves all day long, and that’s so hard to sustain. Let go of the things you can’t control and don’t take it personally.”
Seeing dancers excited about performing a role for the first time or figuring out something they were struggling with can be the best thing in the world for a rehearsal director. “Not many people get to do their dream for their job. It’s our duty to give back and inspire and that’s what we do.”
As for this latest ballet, she’s most looking forward to watching Cinderella enter the ball. “It gets really quiet and everyone gasps when they see her: sparkly and beautiful. That moment you feel the magic.”
Attend a Performance
Tickets are still available for performances of Devon Carney’s Cinderella at the Kauffman Center February 17-26, 2023. Visit kcballet.org.
Photography by Anna Walker.