The Orlando Ballet began in 1974. Back then, it was called the Performing Arts Company of Florida and had only 12 unpaid dancers and $4,000 to its name. It has grown to be Central Florida's only fully residential professional ballet company. But, as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, the company relies on philanthropic support from community members to continue to put on performances. No one understands this better than longtime supporter Harriett Lake.
Lake and her husband made millions in various endeavors, including the development of the Sky Lake community. Now, Lake has a list of nearly 200 charities and hospitals she regularly donates to. She gives more than a million dollars every year to various arts organizations and medical centers throughout Central Florida. One of the projects she feels most strongly about is the Orlando Ballet.
In an oral history interview back in 2014, Lake told Orlando Memory (dc.ocls.info) that she considers giving to these causes her job. She said, "I refuse to die until I have a place for the ballet to rehearse and practice ... and that will be the last thing I probably do. I'm dedicated to the ballet."
To honor Lake's commitment to the company, the Orlando Ballet is hosting a tribute gala and performance on Feb. 25 called the Best of Broadway. Lake has always been a passionate lover of dance and musical theater, so the company decided last April that they would create an event honoring Lake and her contributions with a collection of her favorites.
"I think for a lot of arts organizations, Harriett Lake is an angel," says Robert Hill, Orlando Ballet's artistic director. "Without her support, it's very possible we would not have survived some of the challenging moments along the way."
Hill says that Lake was instrumental in putting the show together. Everything, from the gala decorations to the performance itself, will be appropriately Harriett-esque. For example, a boring red carpet just won't do for a fashionista like Lake. Guests will instead enter walking down a glamorous pink carpet, Lake's favorite color.
"I adore the woman, not only because she's so generous, but she's become a friend," he says. "She respects me and loves the work that I do, and I respect what she does. ... It felt like an appropriate time to do a tribute to honor her."
Lake picked every song in the performance and their sequence in the show. She has continually offered commentary on the numbers, and has even donated a few items from her famous wardrobe to be used during the performance.
The show itself will be a fast-paced one-act, a collage of Lake's handpicked Broadway show tunes ranging from "It's a Hard Knock Life" from Annie to Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing" as used in Contact (Lake's absolute favorite show). Numbers choreographed by Hill, Arcadian Broad, Telmo Moreira and Chiaki Yasukawa have been set to some of the most popular songs from Singin' in the Rain, Cabaret, A Chorus Line, Chicago, An American in Paris, West Side Story, Footloose and more.
Every level of the company will be a part of the performance, from Orlando Ballet's 25 professional dancers to the pre-professional dancers from Orlando Ballet II and students from the Orlando Ballet School.
For the company to have grown to this size, Hill says, would not have been possible without contributions from people like Lake, someone who realizes the importance of funding arts programs in metropolitan places.
"There's that expression, that several people mention and that I agree with ... 'Every great city in the world has a great ballet company,'" Hill says. "I think [the ballet] adds to the credibility of Orlando becoming an important international destination."