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Kelowna's artists band together to save Ballet Kelowna

For a $45 investment dance, arts and culture fans will get a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime variety performance from Okanagan artists and bolster the coffers for a Ballet Kelowna revival - Contributed
For a $45 investment dance, arts and culture fans will get a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime variety performance from Okanagan artists and bolster the coffers for a Ballet Kelowna revival
— image credit: Contributed

A variety show this Friday with over 80 performers expected to take the stage will raise funds to give Ballet Kelowna's new board of directors a financial leg to stand on.

It would appear Ballet Kelowna's "final performance" mid-March will be anything but a swan song.

This weekend, artists and cultural community enthusiasts will be out in force to celebrate the decade-old company's success, rather than its demise, with a benefit concert intended to bolster a revival.

"This is based on the strong support for the last season," said lead organizer Denise Griswald, a longtime Kelowna arts supporter who is spearheading the variety show fundraiser.

When the board of directors for the Kelowna Ballet Society announced on the last day of January that the directors would resign and close the company's doors before the end of the season, all seemed lost. But the town hall meeting which followed, a gathering originally intended to provide the arts community a place to air their "support for dance in the Okanagan," unearthed a strong resolve to keep the dance company on its feet.

Before a full house at the Kelowna Art Gallery, Okanagan Symphony Orchestra conductor Rosemary Thomson summed up her own grief succinctly. "This is like a death in the family," she said.

The phrase proved a call-to-arms in the media and a groundswell of support quickly materialized within the Okanagan artistic and cultural community.

The outpouring of love resulted in the company's first sold-out show in its hometown last month, and membership in Kelowna Ballet Society doubled. A small board of directors has since stepped forward intent on finding a way to clear the financial difficulties plaguing the society and get the dancers back on stage.

Thomson was among the first to offer her talents to the effort, and will be among the many noteworthy artists on stage in this opening fundraiser.

She will play a piano duet with Okanagan-based composer Arnold Draper, who has written scores for her orchestra and the ballet, including Ballet Kelowna's first performance "when the audience was infinitesimal," as he put it.

This show should yield throngs of fans by comparison, many to support the ballet and many keen on seeing the unusual display of talent on the stage together for this one special evening.

"It's one of a kind, all these different artists coming together," said Draper, who has worked with many of the key players.

In addition to playing with Thomson, he will perform with local opera singer Alexandra Babbel, both with and without a dance accompaniment.

"I'm a keen supporter of all of the arts. We have a flourishing orchestra, we have chamber music and (Ballet Kelowna) just fits right in with that," he said.

Draper's sister-in-law, world renown cellist Sharon McKinley, will play with him on Mikhail Fokine's The Dying Swan.

And the other performers will include ballet instructor and past Ballet Kelowna soloist Tiffany Bilodeau (now with I-Dance Studios), local countertenor and actor Quinn Bates, Carly Butler of the Canadian School of Ballet, violinist Colleen Venables (returning from a concert tour in China), and some 80-plus talented performers.

The show runs this Friday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Kelowna Community Theatre, 1375 Water Street. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 250-862-2867 or in person at the Kelowna Actors Studio Box Office, 1379 Ellis Street.

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