Artistic Director 1996 - 2013
William Whitener was appointed artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet in November 1996. He has been active in the professional dance field for three decades as a renowned dancer, teacher, choreographer, and director and has worked with the leaders who shaped the face of contemporary American ballet, including Robert Joffrey, Jerome Robbins, and Twyla Tharp. Mr. Whitener has served as artistic director of both Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
His early ballet training was with Karen Irvin at the Cornish School in Seattle, Washington. In 1963, at 11 years of age, he was the recipient of a Ford Foundation scholarship to study with the San Francisco Ballet School. As a child, he performed with the Bolshoi Ballet in their production of Ballet School. As a teenager, he was trained by Robert Joffrey, who invited him to join the New York City Opera Ballet and, subsequently, the Joffrey Ballet in 1969. For the next eight years, he performed a wide range of featured principal roles in ballets by Alvin Ailey, Gerald Arpino, George Balanchine, Kurt Jooss, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, among others.
Mr. Whitener joined the original Broadway cast of Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ in 1978. Later that year, he began an eight-year association as a leading dancer with the Twyla Tharp Dance Company. He performed internationally and for President Reagan at the White House. He also expanded his career beyond the ballet stage into the world of film, appearing in Amadeus, and the ABC television production of Bye Bye Birdie. Other television credits include the premiere episode of the PBS series Dance in America, The Dick Cavett Show and the BBC production of The Catherine Wheel. In 1987, he assisted Jerome Robbins with the reconstructions and staging for Robbins’ Broadway. He also performed in Martha Clarke’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and assisted Twyla Tharp with works for American Ballet Theatre with Mikhail Baryshnikov. He has staged Ms. Tharp’s ballets for Kansas City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, The Juilliard School and Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse in France.
Mr. Whitener has choreographed works for many ballet companies including Kansas City Ballet, the Boston Ballet (International Choreography Competition Finalist), The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, Ballet Hispanico with the Tito Puente Ensemble, Hartford Ballet, Joffrey II, Princeton Ballet, and for dancers Martine van Hamel and Kevin McKenzie. In musical theater, he has created dances for the Broadway production of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Eva LeGallienne, an Off-Broadway production of A Little Night Music, and Guys and Dolls (starring Faith Prince) for the Seattle Repertory Theatre. He also choreographed solos for Broadway performers Ann Reinking and Tommy Tune. Locally, he choreographed the Lyric Opera’s productions of Eugene Onegin, The Pearlfishers and Nixon in China, the Kansas City Symphony’s Nightlight Pops: The Magic of Christmas, and The Winter’s Tale for Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
He staged the debut of American Ballroom Theatre at the Kennedy Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music and created a dance for Bill Irwin for Alive From Off Center on PBS television. Mr. Whitener choreographed dances for Rusalka, starring Renée Fleming and Ben Heppner, and Aida for the Seattle Opera, as well as dances for Ice Theatre of New York and the Olympic Gold medalist figure skater John Curry. He has been a member of the faculties of Harvard University, University of Washington, Concord Academy, and Pacific Northwest Ballet. He was nominated for the National Corporate Fund for Dance American Choreograph Award and served as an Evaluator and Advisory Committee member for the International Ballet Competition 2006 in Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Whitener has served on the dance panels for National Endowment for the Arts, Pew Charitable Trust Fund, Bush Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, Herb Alpert/CAL Arts Awards, and the Board of Trustees of DANCE/USA.
In May 2008, Mr. Whitener was a member of the jury panel for the International Ballet Prize, Benois de la Danse, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. He also served as a Trustee of the Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey Foundation.