Ballet Kelowna president Jaimie Maw says his board of directors was 94 per cent of the way there, but nevertheless could not save Ballet Kelowna, opting to fold the company in meetings last week.
“It was a combination of things. The imminent retirement of artistic director David LaHay. The retraction of government funding—although it coincidentally falls (on the same night) as the government of B.C. announces its $6 million fund for the arts—it was just a number of things,” said Maw after a statement was issued to the press Friday.
On Thursday of last week the provincial government announced a $6 million initiative aimed at bolstering support for cultural, community and sports initiatives for youth; but the fund would not likely have offered many more funding avenues for the fledgling company.
A longtime supporter of the arts, Maw suggested the board’s primary objective was to remain financially responsible so neither the young dancers, nor the organization’s many dedicated supporters would suffer losses as a result of the decision to fold.
“Many arts organizations are becoming grant-writing organizations in order to sustain the arts,” he said.
Newly minted executive director for the company, Megan Williams, told Kelowna city council in April that finding the funding to keep the company afloat weighed heavily on her predecessor, Alison Moore.
“Alison Moore said the funding issues contributed to her resignation,” said Williams, adding that it caused “fatigue.”
The ballet was not yet eligible for funding through the Canada Counsel for the Arts or the B.C. Arts Council operational grants, relying heavily on noteworthy benefactors, such as Thomas Budd, and the City of Kelowna for the base funding to keep the doors open.
The board of directors itself also staged three fundraisers annually, including their Hot Holiday Homes tour, their signature fundraising gala, Pirouette, and a Flower Power garden tour.
And it was enough to get them through a decade.
The eight dancers in the company, six established professional artists and two apprentices, will turn in their last performances for the small troupe on Mar. 15 and 16, an abbreviated end to the company’s tenth anniversary year.
In addition to performing frequently at the Kelowna Community Theatre, Ballet Kelowna took LaHay’s inspired blend of classical and contemporary dance to more than 30 smaller communities throughout British Columbia and Alberta, developing a starring role for many families and new arts patrons with its performances of the The Nutcracker each Christmas.
“Sustaining a ballet company in a smaller market is an ongoing struggle—one we’ve willingly embraced knowing how fortunate we are to bring David’s extraordinarily high standard of dance to our community,” Maw said. “No matter how much we fine-tune our projections… the continuing downward economic trends are more than we can adjust for.”
The Kelowna Ballet Society will continue to exist in shell form in hopes that a new group of dance enthusiasts can pick up where Ballet Kelowna left off at a later date.
The loss marks a major change in the cultural fabric of the Okanagan community, defining the city as a national standout for its ability to support its own dance company.
“Over the last ten years, our community has been privileged to be the home base for this dynamic, innovative touring company which has touched the lives of so many audiences here at home and throughout Western Canada,” said Sandra Kochan, cultural services manager for the City of Kelowna. “Ballet Kelowna has also fulfilled an important role in the career development of its professional dancers and the artistic legacy of LaHay’s mentorship will continue as these talented young dancers move on to other stages.”
LaHay brought with him a distinguished career as principal dancer of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and Ballet Master at Les Grands, The Ottawa Ballet and Alberta Ballet.
“I am very proud of the precious gift I and my devoted, talented dancers have given to the City of Kelowna and the province of British Columbia this past decade—a ballet company that earned the respect and admiration of audiences and presenters everywhere with exciting programming that truly moved everyone,” he said. “I am most grateful for all the support we have received from so many people, corporations and funding agencies who have truly our partners in the dance.”