Dance preview: Jimmy Orrante helps keep momentum going with Dancing for the Cure

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It hasn’t really hit him yet.

Earlier this month, after 20 years of dancing in and choreographing works for BalletMet, Jimmy Orrante performed in his final ballet, “American Masters,” before retiring from the company. But the realities of retirement, he said in a recent phone interview, probably won’t sink in until the fall. Dancers, after all, are used to having summers off to recuperate from many months of continuous and rigorous physical work.

It also helps that Orrante is currently hard at work preparing for the second annual Dancing for the Cure, a charity event organized by local dancers and choreographers, which features musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, dancers from BalletMet and guest artists from all over the U.S. All proceeds from the event go to a local medical research organization chosen by the artists involved.

Dancing for the Cure is the brainchild of Orrante and his colleagues Attila Bongar and Gabriel Gaffney Smith.

“It’s a reoccurring theme for dancers that you have your summers off,” Orrante said. “Most dancers have to leave their city to go find work and dance elsewhere. As a dancer, you’d rather be working ... you’d rather be creating.”

Orrante, Bongar and Gaffney Smith decided to create an event that would not only allow them to stay in Columbus over the summer, but would also have an impact on, and resonate with, the community. And so they came up with the idea for an annual benefit performance.

The first Dancing for the Cure “exceeded our expectations,” Orrante said. The event featured dancers from Pittsburgh’s Texture Contemporary Ballet, Matthew Rushing from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and about 16 musicians, some of them from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and was conducted by Luis Biava, the orchestra’s principal cellist. All but a few seats in the theater were filled, and the performance raised about $7,000 dollars for cancer research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

This year, there will be two separate performances, and money raised from the events will go to a cause that is close to Orrante’s heart — the Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation. Hemophilia is a rare disorder in which a patient’s blood does not clot properly, causing him or her to bleed for longer periods of time, after an injury, than someone without hemophilia.

“My son [Isaac, 11] is a hemophiliac and he’s also a dancer, so those were two big connections for me,” Orrante said. “This is a bleeding disorder that he deals with every day and it’s something that he, as a child, he kind of gets lost in it and forgets about it a little bit just because he is a kid and wants to do a lot of activities. We have to remind him, ‘Isaac, be careful,’ or ‘Isaac, slow down.’”

Isaac has trained at BalletMet for years and has appeared in several performances of “The Nutcracker.” Though there is no cure for hemophilia, Orrante said Isaac’s dance training has been beneficial in helping him manage the symptoms.

“Sometimes [Isaac] would get spontaneous bleeds in his joints,” Orrante explained. “It normally happens if he is tired or his body isn’t getting the proper rest, or if he’s very active. But since he has been dancing, we haven’t had as many issues. And I think those two things go hand-in-hand. So much of what we do in ballet is based on the strengthening of the small muscle groups, and it triggers basic alignment. I don’t think he knows it but I think his body is strengthening in the proper way. I think it does help him immensely.”

Everyone involved in the production of Dancing for the Cure donates their time for the event. This year, 15 ballet dancers have volunteered to perform, including Lauren Fadeley, principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet. After the shows, all audience members are invited to a reception where they can mix and mingle with the dancers, musicians, choreographers and producers.

Columbus, Orrante has discovered, is the perfect city for a collaboration of this magnitude. “We have all the resources. Just look at the city and how much it is growing and thriving. Why can’t we do these kinds of things? We have the talent here. What’s fun about it is you bring people in from out of town, like New York, and they’re so surprised by the support of the community here,” he said.

“I want people to come away feeling like we have the capability here in Columbus to put these kinds of things together. And that people are willing to do it. It’s a good performance and we have it here in our backyard.”

Photo caption:

Jimmy Orrante comes forward for his final bow during his last performance, "Thinking of You" before retiring after 22 years as a dancer, at the final show of “American Masters” by BalletMet, at the Ohio Theater, Sunday, May 3.

Dispatch photo by Courtney Hergesheimer

Jimmy Orrante portrait photo by Jodi Miller/Alive

Dancing for the Cure

BalletMet Performance Space

1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Sunday, May 17

322 Mount Vernon Ave., Downtown