In addition to cancelled shows, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted final performances for many retiring dancers. This week, Pointe is giving several retiring principals and soloists a chance to reflect on their careers and offer advice to the next generation.
Kayla Rowser says her decision to retire from Nashville Ballet after the 2019-2020 season came peacefully. So too, she says, was her coming to terms with how the COVID-19 global pandemic forced her to end her 13-year career there early, without a final onstage farewell.
"I have found so much comfort in looking back at all I've been able to experience in this art form," says Rowser. "My career may not be ending exactly as I always pictured, but it still surpassed my wildest dreams. For that, I will be forever grateful."
Originally from Conyers, Georgia, Rowser trained at the Magdalena Maury School of Classical Ballet and with Georgia Youth Ballet before dancing professionally with Charleston Ballet Theatre for one season. In 2007 she joined Nashville Ballet's second company, NB2, and in 2010 was promoted to the main company. The award-winning Rowser has performed a multitude of roles, including Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and the title role in Paul Vasterling's Lucy Negro Redux. Sheltered at home in Nashville with husband Nick Tazik, the 31-year-old opened up about her career, being a social advocate and what's next for her.
How did you know it was time to end your career with Nashville Ballet?
I never really imagined I could do the things I have been able to do in my career. Each year I just re-evaluated if I wanted to keep doing this and I did. But I think there comes a time with dancers when all the other things they want to do that have been on the back-burner start to come to the forefront. That time is now.
Do you feel there was an advantage to spending the bulk of your career with one company?
Yes, I think just having some consistency throughout. I have had a home audience that watched me grow up onstage and rooted for me. If we had constantly toured outside of Nashville, I don't think I would have that kind of relationship with them or our other supporters. The company has a really great repertory, including all of the big story ballets, and we get to dance a lot. We also have a city full of other artists that have supported us fully.
Rowser and Scheuer in Swan Lake
Karyn Photography, Courtesy Nashville Ballet
What will you miss most about company life?
The camaraderie in the studio — you know what every single person has on their plate at any given time. It brings people together in a way that is beautiful and I think is unique to ballet. I will also miss being able to truly express myself without words.
Many will recognize you from your activism on diversity in ballet and the lack of opportunities given to dancers of color, as well as to dancers of different body types. How has that impacted your career?
Just being black in ballet, you really don't have a choice in it being apparent that we stand out. It's a torch that has been handed to me but I also wanted to show people that just because of my skin color and that I am a little bit shorter [5'2"], there is still a place for me in ballet. If ballet is to stay relevant, audiences have to see themselves in the stories being told and in the bodies onstage. It is not just about having dancers of color, it's about having dancers of color who are excelling. I have been able to show a bit of what that can look like when someone takes a chance on a dancer and lets them grow within an organization.
Will your activism continue now that you are retired?
Absolutely, my role in activism is not just through the lens of ballet. There is a lot of work still to do on this topic. It will be a part of my journey always.
I will remain in Nashville and am working on finishing my online communications degree from the University of Arkansas. I am also absolutely open to doing some guesting work.
What advice do you have for young dancers wanting to follow in your footsteps?
There are going to be people in your life who are not going to understand what you are trying to pursue. Don't let that get in your way. Make sure you find qualified and caring training that is supportive of you.