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Kansas City Ballet’s sublime Kimberly Cowen concludes her 20-year performing career with the company this month. She dances in Balanchine’s Serenade and Todd Bolender’s Souvenirs May 4–13 in Kansas City, and performs a pas de deux from artistic director William Whitener’s Carmen and the tango from Souvenirs on May 24 at St. Louis’ Spring to Dance Festival.
Cowen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Kenny Johnson, Courtesy KCB.
“Equally at home as a ballerina in Giselle or the frightening figure in Wigman’s Hexentanz, Kimberly has made her mark on a broad range of repertory,” says Whitener, who in the 16 years he has worked with her has found “her engagement in the creative and interpretive processes awe-inspiring.”
Giselle tops a list of favorite ballets that includes Bolender’s The Still Point, Balanchine’s Agon, and Carmen. “I get the most joy from dancing work with a story behind it,” she says. The last KCB dancer to be trained by Bolender, who took her into the company at 16, Cowen continues to be guided by him in memory. Whitener challenged her in other ways, and gave her different opportunities.
“I didn’t know I’d enjoy contemporary work like Margo Sappington’s Cobras in the Moonlight and Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat,” she says.
At 37, Cowen retires at the top of her game. “It’s time,” she says. “I feel really fulfilled. I’ve gotten to do whatever I’ve wanted, including moving into the new building.” (See “All-American Dream,” Oct. 2011.) In her new position as principal and associate director of the KCB School, she remains in the Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity, passing on her artistry to future generations. —Martha Ullman West
Just before Riolama Lorenzo’s farewell performance with Pennsylvania Ballet, a child’s voice sounded over the backstage speakers: “Fifteen minutes, Mommy. I love you!” Lorenzo’s 4-year-old son, Sebastian, called his mom to the stage. It was a fitting gesture, since Sebastian and his sister, 10-month-old Rio Maria, are the reasons why Lorenzo has decided to end her 15-year professional career.
“As a mother of two, it’s too much without any family around [to help],” admits the Cuban-born dancer, who trained at the Harid Conservatory and School of American Ballet. “I’ve done all the roles I’ve wanted to do, like Giselle, Carmen, and Odette/Odile.” As Giselle, she billowed through Act II like a puff of smoke, grounded only by her heavy emotion and strong technique. In Roland Petit’s Carmen, Lorenzo captivated audiences with her oozing sensuality and unwavering command. Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake showcased her dramatic ability, supple spine, and gorgeously arched feet. She was promoted to principal in 2005.
But the highlight of her career was her mentor/muse relationship with Jerome Robbins. The famed choreographer plucked Lorenzo from the corps at New York City Ballet and gave her principal parts, like the Mad Ballerina in The Concert. “Her movement quality suited his works,” says Jean-Pierre Frohlich, ballet master at NYCB. “He just loved her look—dark hair, beautiful face, and well-proportioned body.”
Lorenzo’s expressive features, stunning lines, and mature presence have made an indelible mark on the next generation of dancers. For her last show on February 12, she performed two ballets by Matthew Neenan. She playfully seduced her partner in 11:11. In Keep, she exuded calmness and maternal warmth. Lorenzo, as usual, brought the house to its feet. And Sebastian, carrying a bouquet of white roses, met his mom onstage for her final bow and ushered her into full-time motherhood. —Julie Diana
Lorenzo with son Sebastian and husband Javier Lasa at her final curtain call. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.