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By Molly Wagner
Photo of Wagner by Kenny Johnson, Courtesy KCB.
Molly Wagner began her training with Christina Noel-Adcock in Denver, and augmented it with summer intensives at the Jillana School in New Mexico, Joffrey Ballet South, Kansas City Ballet, and Ballet Austin. After graduating from the University of Missouri—Kansas City, she launched her professional career with Missouri Contemporary Ballet, Montgomery Ballet, and Charleston Ballet Theatre. She performed featured roles in ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, and Don Quixote. Wagner is currently in her first season with Kansas City Ballet.
Why do I dance? It’s a question I ask daily. Some days it’s motivation to get through a tedious rehearsal, and other days it’s an all-consuming statement that brings me joy. Either way, the answer is simple: I love to dance. At the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, the new home of Kansas City Ballet, I see a quote on the wall from my spot at barre: “Dance has been like oxygen to my life. I breathe it. It exhilarates me.” Every morning, especially those when the aches and pains are less bearable, I read the quote and reignite my desire for dance. I breathe it in, empty my mind of negativity, and focus on the music, the movement, and my endeavors for the day. Dance is striving to reach an unattainable perfection, but for me it is as necessary as breathing. It is my expression of passion, love, and fulfillment.
My fascination with dance began when I quit gymnastics at age 13. I had always been the wild child of the family, flipping over sofas, while my sister was the gentle grace. I lost my motivation for the competitive world and decided to follow my sister and attempt ballet. At first I approached ballet through the eyes of a well-trained gymnast: “Here is a step; let me use every muscle I have and grip through.” I thought of dance as execution without any notion of artistry. By eventually learning to lengthen and stretch each movement, I discovered the sensation of opposition in my muscles. This flow of energy turned dance into a beautiful world of expression.
Dance is like painting. Although the foundation is the same, every artist’s canvas is unique. I love watching the same ballets and experiencing something new with each dancer’s interpretation. It inspires me to study nuances from other artists and then incorporate my own voice. Preparing for Juliet in Elie Lazar’s Romeo and Juliet at Montgomery Ballet allowed me to paint my own canvas of her young innocence combined with her instantaneous, fervent love of Romeo. My partner Ian Morris and I drew from our own experiences of love and loss to craft a believable chemistry to share with the audience. Because so many artists have performed Juliet with such beauty, finding my own interpretation was the greatest challenge of my career.
Behind the fulfilling artistry lies an incredible demand for athleticism. I enjoy the overwhelming sense of fatigue in the body; that’s where my passion for dance grows. The point of utter exhaustion fuels my body to achieve, and a newfound appreciation of dance begins. Performing Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante at Charleston Ballet Theatre last season provided this challenge: a demanding combination of strenuous technique performed with the beautiful simplicity of Balanchine. While physically drained after this performance, I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment.
Above all is the inexplicable feeling of stepping onstage. I feel nerves; I feel excitement. As I begin to dance, I’m able to step out of these feelings and into the movement before me. The hours of practice, trained muscle memory, and a fulfillment in every step unify. I connect to the audience and think, Let me show you my world.
The stage is my opportunity to be vulnerable and share a fragment of myself. I strive to touch another human being with my love of dancing during every show. As the curtain opens, a fresh moment of my life begins. It’s not just a performance; it’s the baring of the soul. This is why I absolutely, undeniably, must dance.