Ballet Kelowna picks itself up from near collapse

The Okanagan’s only professional ballet company, Ballet Kelowna is dancing into the future thanks to support from the community.

The Okanagan’s only professional ballet company, Ballet Kelowna is dancing into the future thanks to support from the community.

The announcement comes a year after Ballet Kelowna’s then board of directors announced it would close the company’s doors after 10 years of operation, citing insurmountable financial challenges.

That outlook has changed due to an outpouring of support from audiences, members, and donors, together with a new board of directors, which have combined to breathe new life into the organization, said Ballet Kelowna’s new board president Deborah Ward.

“Together, we’ve certainly done what many people thought was impossible,” she said. “It’s taken a tremendous amount of hard work, and there’s still much to be done, but we’re now at a point where there’s real confidence about the future. A huge thank you is due to everyone who came forward, and is still coming forward, to help sustain us.”

Ballet Kelowna’s 2013-14 season got off to a successful start with sold-out holiday performances of The Nutcracker with the Canadian School of Ballet in Kelowna. (The show did come to Vernon as in past years.)

“Our finances are stable, and we’re operating in the black again,” said Ward. “Membership has also virtually tripled over the past year.”

John Grimes, a Kelowna-based non-profit consultant, has been working with the new board to help it implement a vision and plan for the future.

“Sometimes a great challenge can make an organization much stronger,” he said. “There’s a deep passion in this community for ballet and dance and the arts, and for the richer quality of life they bring. When you tap into that level of passion, as Ballet Kelowna has done, the future is not about challenges anymore, it’s about opportunities.”

The announcement also comes on the heels of the soon departure of Ballet Kelowna’s founding artistic director David LaHay, who is retiring in May.

“I’m proud of the outstanding performances that our dancers have brought to the province over the years. I love being with our dancers who are working in the studio now, preparing for the upcoming tour and our season finale in Kelowna,” said LaHay, adding, “I’m also extremely excited about where the next generation of dancers, and a new artistic director, will take the company. The possibilities are exhilarating.”

The selection process for LaHay’s successor is underway with a strong interest among a number of well-qualified professionals, said Alison Moore, past executive director of the company, who has returned to the helm on an interim basis during the transition.

A new artistic director is expected to be named in the fall, followed by an executive director.

“We’re approaching this very carefully,” said Ward. “We’re building a team. Having the right chemistry, the right people to work together –first the board, then the artistic director, dancers, and administration– is the single most important ingredient when your product is excellence – excellence in motion.”

Ballet Kelowna returns to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre with its latest production, Innovation, directed by LaHay. The performance takes place March 1 and tickets are now on sale at the Ticket Seller box office.