At age 11 Simone Orlando was swept up in the passion of dance which would eventually take her halfway around the world and back sharing her love of ballet.
Today, Orlando, in her third year as CEO and artistic director of Ballet Kelowna, mentors a small family of dancers at one of 10 professional ballet companies in Canada.
“As soon as I took my first ballet class I realized this is what I really wanted to do, I wanted to be a dancer so I worked really, really hard and I was fortunate enough to be given a position at Canada’s national ballet school,” said Orlando, following the troupe’s performance at the Cleland Theatre Sunday.
After graduating she took an apprentice position with the National Ballet of Canada, eventually earning a permanent position.
“It was an amazing opportunity as a young dancer, dancing in an environment every day with people I absolutely admired,” she recalled. “It was such a special opportunity to be in that company and be able to tour and dance in places like Hong Kong and Tokyo and Germany.”
While with the national company, Orlando got interested in another side of the creative process, choreography.
After leaving the National Ballet, Orlando began looking for a smaller company where she could explore her newfound interest. That landed her with Ballet British Columbia where she spent 13 years as a principal dancer.
“In terms of my passion for dance, first and foremost I am a dancer and always will be a dancer and secondly, I love to create dance, I love to choreograph,” said Orlando, who has won awards for her choreography. “I have worked with the dancers to create those pieces and it’s absolutely inspiring to be in the studio.
“I am so fortunate to still be involved in this art form because young dancers, their careers don’t last very long, often times their bodies just can’t put up with the rigour of what it takes to be a ballet dancer, things just wear out.”
Born and raised in Kelowna, Desiree Bortolussi, 21, is one of six young performers under Orlando’s wing.
“Simone is very detail orientated and she really pushes us to strive for perfection of the technique and the artistry,” said Bortolussi, who started dancing at age three. “She challenges us in the studio and is very supportive. We’re very much a family, we definitely know each other like the back of our hands. We’re in such close quarters all day, every day and you really build that bond.
“There is definitely tensions sometimes but at the end of the day you are a family.”
Ballet Kelowna, founded in 2002, is putting together one of its biggest performances, 150 Moves Feb. 3 and 4 at the Kelowna Community Theatre in celebration of Canada’s 150 birthday.
The collection of works is designed to showcase the tremendous talent and artistry of Canadian influence in classical and contemporary dance.
Ballet Kelowna will be joined by artists from Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella Dance Company and Alberta Ballet II in the production.
“I think audiences will be surprised and incredibly impressed by the visual feast on stage,” said Orlando. “The performance involves more than 30 performers, and the energy and athleticism of these dancers is sure to inspire and make one proud to be Canadian.
“I’m incredibly happy to be with Ballet Kelowna, and still having that opportunity to be in the studio every day, creating dance, working with dancers and still being dancer every single day.”