A night at the ballet ranks right up there with opera as a stereotypically classy, yet incomprehensible experience from a long-forgotten time, something Ballet Kelowna’s artistic director Simone Orlando knows all too well.
Orlando and Ballet Kelowna aren’t in the business of setting up barriers to alienate their audiences, however, and they plan to shatter some stereotypes with their performance of “taq?š and Other Works” at Oliver’s Venables Theatre next week.
“We tour to a lot of smaller communities and oftentimes, audiences that are coming to the performance are experiencing dance for the very first time when they see a Ballet Kelowna show,” said Orlando. “Afterwards, they’re so surprised by how much they enjoyed the performance.”
“Our performances are really accessible and the pieces on our programs are relevant and reflect the times that we live in now, as opposed to maybe some 18th century European aristocracy,” she explained. “The dancers are often dressed in clothes that reflect what our audience members might be wearing, you know, more pedestrian street wear.”
“We do have pieces that are en pointe for the women, but I would say again that they are contemporary ballet as opposed to the really structured, rigid genre that is classical ballet.”
Taq?š and Other Works, the program that Ballet Kelowna will be touring throughout the rest of 2023 and into next year, features three of their signature works: The Forever Part, Bolero, and the titular taq?š.
The Forever Part, commissioned from Kirsten Wicklund in 2021, explores “the idea and permanence of forever,” and is also “inspired by daydreams and the idea of longing,” in Orlando’s words, set to a score featuring Johann Sebastian Bach and some original music by Wicklund herself.
Bolero by Guillaume Côté, an associate choreographer with the National Ballet of Canada, is set to a very familiar piece of music by Maurice Ravel. It consists of four male dancers performing a series of what Orlando called “absolutely incredible lifts” that make it a “very athletic, very driving” piece, with an ending that has often inspired gasps from the crowd.
Cameron Fraser-Monroe’s taq?š - meaning “to return something” in Ayajuthem, the language belonging to the Homalco, Klahoose, K’omoks and Tla’amin Nation - tells the traditional Tla’amin story “Raven Returns the Water.”
Set to songs by Polaris Prize winning composer and singer Jeremy Dutcher, taq?š features elements of Coast Salish hoop and grass dance along with contemporary ballet. Fraser-Monroe will also be speaking to the audience about his piece at the Oliver date.
“We use ballet as a foundation for the work that we do,” Orlando explained, “so each day our dancers are training for an hour and a half prior to going into six hours of rehearsal and that training is ballet, but the works that we produce are contemporary.”
“I’ve had people come up to me saying, like, I thought I was gonna be sleeping for the evening but I was on the edge of my seat, so excited about what I was seeing! The works that we’re presenting have incredible energy to them.”
Development of this tour started in April of 2022, when Ballet Kelowna attended the BC Touring Council’s Pacific Contact conference after two years of COVID-19 related cancellations. The conference brings together creative groups and allows them to showcase their offerings to potential tour presenters.
With their former connections rebuilt at the 2022 conference, they performed excerpts of their current program at this April’s conference and, with the help of funding from a Canada Council for the Arts grant and considerable interest from tour presenters, the tour began to take solid shape.
After the current fall leg of the tour, which will take them across Vancouver Island after their Oliver date, they will continue on to Northern BC throughout the winter and then into the spring and summer elsewhere.
While Ballet Kelowna have brought many shows to the South Okanagan in the past, this will be their largest company of dancers to perform in Oliver – twelve dancers across the three works, compared to eight in the past – and two of the works will feature the entire ensemble. They will also be hosting a Q&A session after the performances.
“I think it’s going to feel quite different than the last time we were in Oliver, just having so many dancers onstage,” said Orlando.
Taq?š and Other Works comes to Venables Theatre on Tuesday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and $20 for ages 18 and under, and can be purchased at venablestheatre.ca.