Raising the "Barre"

Simone Orlando (Artistic Director & CEO of Ballet Kelowna) de-myth-stifies ballet

King Louis XIV was a ballet dancer! He pliéd and pirouetted around Versailles, popularizing ballet as an art form in his court back in 17th-century France.

Aha moment...now all those French terms for ballet movements make sense!

In its long history, ballet has sometimes been perceived by the uninitiated as stagnant, dull and pretentious. But not here in the Okanagan thanks to the vision of Simone Orlando guiding the future of Ballet Kelowna, a “Made in Kelowna” dance company.

The statuesque brunette began dancing in Vancouver at eleven, before completing her training at the National Ballet School in Toronto. In 1989, she joined the National Ballet of Canada, where for five years she danced a wide repertoire.

“I’d arrived. I was working in the best company in the country,” she says, reminiscing. “But I wanted to develop dance...be part of the process.”

To feed those creative fires, Orlando joined Ballet British Columbia in 1996, where she choreographed many award-winning productions and danced as one of the company’s most celebrated principal artists for the next thirteen years.

She has performed in exotic venues in Asia, Europe, Mexico and Brazil, but also in Nakusp, Whitehorse, Newfoundland and “everywhere in between”. Garnering ovations for all her roles, her favourite was Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

On a fateful Fall day in 2007, however, Orlando’s dancing days were cut tragically short:

“While creating a new ballet, I landed badly coming out of a lift shearing the labrum in my hip.” Her voice reflects the trauma of the life-altering event. “My career as a dancer was over and my career as a choreographer threatened.” Simone Orlando, Photo by David Cooper

Orlando had to reinvent herself, particularly if she was to move into a leadership role in dance. She completed BCIT’s business management program and, while ballet and business are not the most traditional combination, together this skill set provided Orlando with the résumé perfect for her current position. She assumed the dual role of Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Kelowna in September 2014.

In this winter issue, Orlando smashes stereotypes embedded in the culture of ballet, an art form about which she is passionate.

Myth #1: Ballet is boring.

“After our final show last season, I had a bunch of men approach me and say, ‘I wasn’t bored for one minute.’ That was so heart-warming for me.” She smiles at the recollection. “I did what I set out to do...show our audiences ballet is not staunch and boring.”

She admits with Ballet Kelowna she is pushing the art form, but hopes both her “artist peers and people who have never seen a dance performance in their lives will be moved.”

Myth #2: Ballet is a frou-frou, girly thing.

“My experience in dance is the farthest thing from being girly,” Orlando insists. “It’s not about tulle and satin slippers. It’s about discipline, hard work, being humble and falling flat on your face.”

As Orlando hands over Ballet Kelowna’s schedule for the 2015/16 season, she says laughing, “Take a look at our latest programming. There’s nary a tutu in sight.”

She believes dancers work as hard as any other athlete. “Lifting a 115 pound woman over your head all day requires strength and stamina. Trust me, there’s a lot of sweat, blood and tears involved.”

Myth #3: All ballet dancers are anorexic.

Orlando acknowledges eating disorders have been associated with the industry, but says, “When dancers are given the opportunity to be welcomed into an environment, not because of what their bodies look like, but rather as artists and creative partners, that changes everything.”

The schedule of a professional ballet dancer is gruelling. She says between class and rehearsals, dancers spend upwards of eight hours each day literally dancing their butts off. So while dancers may be slender, Orlando tells us it is often not from lack of nutrition, but rather that dreaded formula of calories-in vs. calories-out. Imagine how slim we’d all be if we exercised that much!

Myth #4: Ballet is stagnant - it never changes.

It’s not just about old fashioned tales of Nutcrackers, Sleeping Beauties and Swan Lakes:

“Classical ballet is our foundation, a basis and structure from which to develop new dance,” she says. “Moving forward with Ballet Kelowna, I’d like to create new works that are relevant and engaging for today.”

Myth #5: All male ballet dancers are gay.

“Just because male dancers wear tights doesn’t mean they are gay,” she laughs. “That’s like saying, ‘All football players are hot-blooded heterosexuals.’ These are stereotypes. In general, the arts are an open- minded and accepting community and dance is just like any other form of artistic expression – the demographics are diverse.”

Myth #6: Ballet is expensive.

Despite what seems to be a persistent belief that ballet is an activity for the rich, tickets aren’t exorbitantly expensive.

Orlando advises the adult subscription to all three Ballet Kelowna performances in the 2015/16 Season goes for as low as $115. Hmmm...that equates to only $38 per performance...or the price of two bottles of decent VQA vintage.

When it comes to myths in ballet, Orlando believes they originate from lack of communication. Her philosophy is that a ballet company must open its doors to allow people to see what dancers do every day.

“We want to share the artistic process,” she explains. “The fantasy world dancers create on stage is so different than what actually happens in the studio. I want people to understand.”

Then with an elegant smile that is somehow graceful (much like everything else about Orlando), she adds, “Then hopefully they will come see us perform at the Kelowna Community Theatre.”

Simone Orlando promises to astound and amaze her audiences. With the explosive athleticism of the dancers, her bold, boundary-breaking choreography and utterly moving stories, Ballet Kelowna performances are sure to do just that.

Intrigued? Contact Ballet Kelowna at: www.balletkelowna.ca

#arts #okanagan #events

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