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BalletMet's Orrante steps up for Memory Lane project

Clintonville resident will help historical society raise project funds

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Despite being naturally athletic and musically inclined, the idea of becoming a ballet dancer didn't occur to young Jimmy Orrante.

There was a good reason for this.

"I didn't know it was a career path, actually," the Clintonville resident said.

He knows that now. Orrante has been a dancer and choreographer for BalletMet for the past 18 years. Before that, he was with Ballet Memphis and Nevada Ballet Theatre -- and all because of a chance event when Orrante was about 14.

"I think my turning point was when I did an audition in high school," he said.

Orrante at the time was attending an all-male Catholic high school in Los Angeles. The religion teacher was putting together a program about the founder of the school and needed performers, including dancers. Orrante tried out -- and the rest has become his history.

"It was something that was new to me, and it was an art form that I didn't know that existed," he said. "What struck me was how difficult it was to do. The difficult part was making it look easy.

"I think I had natural musicality and natural athleticism, and I guess those things were a real plus."

After one of the instructors informed his parents that young Jimmy showed some real promise as a dancer, he transferred to the Los Angeles County High School for the Performing Arts. After graduation, he went to the North Carolina School of the Arts. It was in his second career stop in Tennessee that Orrante encountered a BalletMet instructor, who asked if he could come to Columbus for some training.

"Here I am, 18 years later," he said. "This is the place where I met my wife. We have three little ones."

Orrante will be the special guest next week at a fundraiser for the Clintonville Historical Society's Memory Lane project. The second annual Jazz, Wine and Desserts fundraiser, which will run from 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the Clintonville Woman's Club, 3951 N. High St., is intended specifically to help pay for the Performing Arts Garden addition to the gardens already installed along West North Broadway.

The garden, one of three that historical society President Mary Rodgers hopes to install this year, will incorporate an urn that was saved when the old Clinton Theater was torn down.

The fundraiser will feature music by the Vaughn Wiester Quartet.

For information about purchasing tax-deductible tickets for the event, call Rodgers at 614-657-6854.

Orrante, one of several people involved with BalletMet who call Clintonville home, will offer comments, share costume designs and field questions about Rhapsodie Espagnole, the newest ballet he has created.

Rodgers said she was delighted when Orrante agreed to appear at the March 12 fundraiser.

"That just made my day," she said, adding his tie-in to performing arts "is just perfect" to help raise money for the newest garden.

"Theater in general has always been a part of the development of communities," Rodgers said. "In our case, our community has attracted theater and performing-arts people for decades.

"I feel that we have had a strong connection to theater and it does have a lot of support in our community. I just feel it's a pretty meaningful thing."

Orrante said he had rarely ventured north of the Ohio State University campus until he and his wife, former BalletMet dancer Sonia Welker, were looking to purchase a home. Their real-estate agent brought them to Clintonville.

"I said, 'What neighborhood is this?' " Orrante recalled. "I like the neighborhood feel of it, the energy. I think it's even more special now that we have our three kids."

Orrante and Welker are the parents of a son, Isaac, and two daughters, Aiyana and Imara.

Orrante said he's delighted to be a part of an effort to recognize the importance of the performing arts in the neighborhood that is home to him and his family.

"I think now, in the city of Columbus, that's what being recognized," he said. "That's what I notice, is the support for the arts is really coming around. I feel like there is a buzz within the communities.

"The quality we have in the city is something to be proud of."

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