By Keith Lacey
Ballet Kelowna has a new leader, a new home and a new vision to try and popularize the art form many consider elitist.
Part of their efforts to bring ballet to the masses includes having members of their professional troupe play in small towns like Oliver, which is exactly what will happen on Sunday, Feb. 12 when dancers with Ballet Kelowna will perform at the Frank Venables Theatre.
The show, called 150 Moves, is being held in conjunction with Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations being held across Canada in 2017, said Simone Orlando, the Chief Executive Officer and artistic director with Ballet Kelowna.
A week before their performance in Oliver, Ballet Kelowna has invited more than three dozen dancers from the acclaimed Arts Umbrella Dance Company in Vancouver and Ballet Alberta II to perform in two big shows at Kelowna Community Theatre on Feb. 4-5.
Those shows featuring the three dance companies will kick off an extended six-week tour that will see performances in Coquitlam, Prince George, Valemount, Fort St. John and Golden in B.C. as well as Fort McMurray and Slave Lake in Alberta, said Orlando.
The show coming to Oliver will be a much smaller program designed to introduce ballet to a wider range of audience, said Orlando.
“We want to expand our audience and make ballet more appealing to those who might never have considered attending a ballet performance,” said Orlando.
With this in mind, the performance in Oliver will feature a tribute to the music of country music legend Johnny Cash.
That portion of the show is called Studies of Cash, where dancers will pay tribute to the legendary American singer and songwriter that will mix Cash’s greatest hits with soulful and stylistic dance interpretations accompanying the music, she said.
Country music fans are sure to enjoy the rare opportunity to listen to their favourite genre of music come to life as interpreted by professional ballet dancers, she said.
The balcony scene from Shakespeare’s classic love story Romeo & Juliet will also be part of the 150 Moves performance in Oliver, she said.
Okanagan-born choreographer Joshua Beamish, who has had his work showcased around the world, will choreograph the Romeo & Juliet balcony scene, accompanied by Prokofiev’s renowned score, said Orlando.
Another performance called Canadian Suite will pay homage to legendary Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, she said.
“People who enjoy ballet in small towns like Oliver traditionally don’t have the opportunity to witness professional dancers, but we’re making a commitment to try and bring professional ballet to these smaller communities across the Okanagan Valley,” she said.
“Kelowna Ballet was the first professional ballet company to perform in the new Frank Venables Theatre last May and we had such a great reaction to that performance that we knew we had to come back with this 150 Moves performance.”
Orlando, a former member with the National Ballet of Canada and longtime professional ballet dancer, has been the artistic director at Ballet Kelowna since the fall of 2014.
A career-ending injury forced her to early retirement and to go back to school to obtain a business degree.
The timing was perfect in the fall of 2014 as she had recently obtained her business degree and Ballet Kelowna was looking for a new CEO and artistic director, she said.
“I applied and was fortunate to land the position … the time couldn’t have been any more perfect,” she said.
Ballet Kelowna has recently moved into its new, spacious 3,500-square-foot studio near the Orchard Park Mall in Kelowna, which has allowed its dancers to be able to rehearse and train full time, she said.
To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, the federal government is offering large grants for arts groups across the country to hold special celebrations and Orlando said Ballet Kelowna wanted to do something very special, which is how 150 Moves came about.
She has worked extensively with Arts Umbrella and Alberta Ballet in the past and didn’t hesitate to invite them to Kelowna, she said.
The shows in Kelowna will feature Denouement by world-renowned choreographer Matjash Mrozewski; Doppeling, featuring dancers from Arts Umbrella, choreography by Orlando and a recorded Double Violin Concerto by Bach; The Fiddle and the Drum, performed by Alberta Ballet II featuring the music of iconic Canadian singer Joni Mitchell and choreography by renowned Jean Grand-Maitre; and Don Quixote Variations, performed by Alberta Ballet II and featuring the music of Ludwig Minkus and choreography by Edmund Stripe.
“We will have more than 40 professional dancers sharing the stage … some of the very best from B.C. and Alberta,” she said. “You don’t often get to see this calibre of professional ballet during one show and certainly not in Kelowna for sure.”
Orlando is hopeful ballet lovers from Osoyoos and Oliver will make the trip to Kelowna for the Feb. 4-5 performances before taking in the scaled down show in Oliver a week later.
In each city and town where 150 Moves performs, Orlando and some members of Ballet Kelowna will spend time with young dancers the day before or day of performance to lead classes, give tips and answer questions, said Orlando.
“We want to show these young dancers that they can consider a career in professional dance,” she said. “We will talk to them about the rigours, hard work and rewards that come with being a professional dancer.”
Tickets for the shows in Kelowna are available on the Ballet Kelowna website at www.balletkelowna.ca.
Tickets for the show in Oliver are available online at www.venablestheatre.ca.