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KCB Dancer Chat with Moderator Bess Wallerstein Huff and Kansas City Ballet dancers Taryn Mejia, Kaleena Burks and Cameron Thomas
Please join us for our Free Facebook Live KCB Dancer Chats; a new community engagement and education series designed to engage the broader public with professional dancers at Kansas City Ballet. Each Dancer Chat provides an opportunity for the public to get to know different company dancers through relaxed, informal conversations sharing their unique perspectives on various topics of the day. Moderated by prominent members of the community and arts lovers these engaging Chats will reveal backgrounds, extraordinary experiences, and strong relationships between professional artists.
MEET THE MODERATOR
Bess Wallerstein Huff
Director of Marketing + Community Outreach, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Bess has served many roles in marketing and programming since joining the Kauffman Center in 2010 prior to the building’s grand opening. Currently she oversees the communications, media and community relations, institutional and programmatic marketing, organizational branding, and outreach programs at the Center. She has nearly 20 years of experience in the non-profit performing arts industry and has worked as the Director of Operations and Community Relations for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and Production Manager for Theater League, Inc. presenting Broadway shows across the country. As an entrepreneur and advocate for cultural growth, Bess was the owner and chief member of CounterClockwise Comedy a professional experimental improvisation comedy group that most recently “roasted” over fifty popular films (a la Mystery Science Theatre 3000). She has served as the Executive Producer of the Kansas City Improv Festival and helped launch the Prairie Village Jazz Festival, a new cultural event for the city of Prairie Village, Kansas. Most recently, Bess was the founder and co-owner of Show Delivered, a company that connected performers to audiences at home, in driveways, yards and cul-de-sacs in an effort to keeping local performers employed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bess has worked as a director, producer, writer, and actor for several performing arts institutions including Theater in Shawnee Mission Park, The Fishtank Theatre and KC Fringe Festival. Appointed by Johnson County Commissioner Steve Klika, Bess currently serves on the Public Art Commission in Johnson County, KS and serves as treasurer of the Greater Kansas City Attractions Association. Bess is also a member of the Charlotte Street Foundation’s Programming Committee which reviews grant applications for performance projects. Bess is a graduate of the 2019 Centurions Leadership Class where she serves as the Co-Chair of the Community Leadership Committee and led the planning of the 2019 Women’s Forum which facilitated conversations about women and mentorship. Bess was appointed to the Marketing Committee of the Central Exchange’s Leadership Lyceum in 2017 after being awarded the Adele Hall Endowment for Advancement and Development Scholarship (AHEAD) through the CX. She continues to volunteer as a judge of theater performance and break-out workshop leader for the Arts Council of Johnson County’s Shooting Stars Scholarship program. Most recently, Bess was named a 2020 Rising Star through Kansas City’s The Independent Magazine. She holds a degree in performance from the University of Central Missouri and is a 2021 graduate of Rockhurst University’s Executive MBA program.
Photo by: Tom Styrkowicz | 53 Tom
Meet the Dancers
Joined KCB in 2010
Kaleena Burks was raised in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where she received training from Magda Auñon and Magaly Suarez. In 2005, she was awarded first place in the pre-professional division of the American Ballet Competition and has since been invited to perform in many galas, including International Ballet Festival of Miami as well as Moving Arts Dance Festival. Ms. Burks has danced with Cincinnati Ballet, Columbia Classical Ballet, and the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. She has been honored to dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy at the Kennedy Center with Kansas City Ballet’s tour of The Nutcracker in 2017. In Kansas City, she has been featured as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, Marguerite Gautier in Lady of the Camellias, The Chosen One in Rite of Spring, Myrtha in Giselle, Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, along with principal roles in Diamonds, Diving into the Lilacs, In the Upper Room, Interplay, Mercury, Petal, Serenade, and Tulips and Lobster.
Joined KCB in 2012
Taryn Mejia was born in Kansas City, Missouri and received a majority of her training on full scholarship at the Kansas City Ballet School and the School of American Ballet, performing Waltz Girl in Serenade for the SAB workshop. Ms. Mejia was given her Corps de Ballet contract with the New York City Ballet and performed numerous Balanchine and Robbins ballets including, Stars and Stripes, Jewels, Symphony in Three Movements, West Side Story Suite, and The Cage. Ms. Mejia is in her 9th season with the company and has been featured in numerous roles in The Nutcracker, Alice (in wonderland), The Four Temperments, The Sleeping Beauty, Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, Wendy in Peter Pan, Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sylvie Pas From William Forsythe’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, the Lead Woman in James Kudelka’s The Man in Black and the Principal girl in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and Diamonds. Some of her favorite choreographers to originate roles for include Matthew Neenan, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Price Suddarth.
Joined KCB in 2017
Cameron Thomas began his dance training in his hometown of Rochester, NY. In 2013, he began performing regularly with the Rochester City Ballet. In 2015, Mr. Thomas received a full scholarship to attend the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. He then joined Kansas City Ballet II for the 2016-2017 season and was promoted to the company the following season. Now in his sixth season with Kansas City Ballet, Mr. Thomas has performed featured roles in William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz, Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias, and Devon Carney’s The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. In addition to being a dancer, Mr. Thomas is a pianist and has accompanied for the Kansas City Ballet School, Oklahoma City Ballet School, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, and the Worldwide Ballet Zoom classes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Thomas co-founded Creative Intersections, an outdoor performance project, with James Kirby Rogers to bring live dance back in a time when theaters were shut down. As a choreographer, Mr. Thomas has created work for Creative Intersections and for the Kansas City Ballet.