Simon Orlando is working to ensure women and marginalized people are equally represented in ballet (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

Ballet Kelowna leaps towards gender equality

Women are under-represented as ballet choreographers in Canada

Ballet Kelowna is about to pirouette itself into a new era in Canadian ballet by commissioning a female choreographer for a full-length piece, for the first time in Canada in over 40 years.

According to Simone Orlando, CEO and artistic director of Ballet Kelowna, the last time a Canadian ballet company commissioned a full length piece from a female choreographer was in 1977.

“I was thinking about it, when was the last time I had seen a full-length work, by a woman, presented by a Canadian ballet company, and I couldn’t remember,” said Orlando.

Ballet Kelowna is a relatively small company and until recently, has not been able to commission a full-length feature, but it is now gaining resources.

Orlando has made the conscious decision to uplift other women, Black, Indigenous, marginalized, and people of colour as Ballet Kelowna grows. She ensured there was diverse representation when comissioning the company’s first full feature.

“I knew that I wanted this work to be created by a woman,” said Orlando.

The feature, Macbeth, was choreographed by Alysa Pires and will be presented on May 6 and 7 at the Kelowna Community Theatre.

Pires said Ballet Kelowna is leading the way by giving those who are marginalized the opportunity to be showcased.

Orlando got her first job as a choreographer at Ballet Kelowna and worked her way up to become CEO. She has used her position to hire and shine the spotlight on other talented under-represented people.

“One of my initiatives here, as artistic director, has been to provide opportunities to women, not only as choreographers but also working on a production team in stage management and in lighting design,” said Orlando.

Women and people of colour are under represented in ballet outside of performance (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

She said that in the ballet world, women aren’t often seen in roles outside of performing. She explained that women at professional ballet schools are typically directed to focus on performance with the goal of becoming professional dancers, while men are given other opportunities, like exploring choreography.

“My goal has been to change that, ” said Orlando.

Things are shifting, she said. Ballet schools now offer courses for people of all gender identities to participate in learning choreography and other skills associated with ballet and performance.

As choreographer of Ballet Kelowna’s first full-length piece, and the first female comissioned to create a full piece in over 40 years, Pires said that she thinks the next hurdle the ballet world needs to overcome is opening the door for women of colour and other marginalized groups to have a space in professional ballet productions.

“My personal goal is to use my privilege and the space that I occupy now to turn around and bring other people with me, especially other women and folks of colour that haven’t had these opportunities yet,” said Pires.

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