History Of Ballet In Canada Essay Research

History Of Ballet In Canada Essay, Research Paper

A History of Ballet in Canada

“Magnificence, extravagance, artificiality, a tiny society in which everyone knew every detail of everyone s life.” The preceding sentence best described the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and it was into that world that professional ballet was born. Louis was an accomplished dancer and appeared in many court ballets from the age of twelve until he was thirty-two. Though he continued to perform his favorite ballroom dances, various affairs, such as his sense of royal dignity forced Louis to give up court ballets. At the age of fourteen, Louis delivered the performance, which identified him and gave him his popular image. It occurred towards the very end of a thirteen-hour performance when he entered as the “Rising Sun”. Many depicted his performance as mere coincidence for he was indeed as brilliant and powerful as the sun, yet at such a young and rising age. He lived to the age of seventy-two, rarely experiencing an illness in his life.

Two definitions of dance exist. One written fifty years before Louis was born and the other shortly after his death show his influence helped to make order out of confusion. In 1588 Thoinot Arbeau, a dancing master defined dance as the following: “Dancing, so to speak, is to jump, to hop, to prance, to sway, to tread, to tiptoe, and to move the feet, hands, and body in certain rhythms, measures, and movements consisting of jumps, bendings of the body, straddlings, limpings, bendings of the knees, risings on the tiptoes, throwings-forward of the feet, changes and other movements.” The change is shown by John Weaver defining dance as the following in 1721: ” Dancing is an elegant and regular movement, harmonically composed of beautiful attitudes and contrasted graceful postures of the body, and parts thereof.”

For the first hundred years of professional ballet, its centre of development remained firmly in Paris, where Louis had placed it. Many changes continued to evolve to the dance style in Europe. It soon developed cabarets and risqu dances such as “La Volta”. Dancers were strictly categorized as to body types, many longing to be like the Sun King, himself. Heavy wigs and masks were done away with when Gaetano was ill for a performance and the dancer who was called to replace him agreed only on the condition that he could go on without the mask, so the audience could recognize who he was. This man, Auguste Vestris was later declared the ultimate God of Dance. He lived from 1760 to 1842 and saw the changes from Dupr in his large wig, to Taglioni on one toe.

Though much happened between the time of the European ballets to the evolution of ballet in Canada, without Louis XIV and the ground the court ballets broke, we wouldn t have seen dance at all. The main principles of ballet have rarely changed, and it is with thanks to the Sun King that the art is present today. The pioneers of dance in Canada were very few in number and were scattered across the country. Dancers were mainly women and more then half were immigrants from Europe and the United States. The dance population in Canada remained very low due to the fact that it offered little opportunity, so prospective dancers fled the country under an alias to study abroad. Ballets based on Canadian themes encouraged dancers to take interest in studying in Canada. That aspect, along with the Canadian Ballet Festival movement which brought together non-professional companies and met every Spring in different Canadian cities inspired dance in Canada to come alive. When the festival began, in 1948 not one professional ballet company existed, however, by 1954, the festivals were discontinued due to the founding of two professional Ballet companies.

The Winnipeg Ballet was the first professional dance company in Canada. This happened in 1949 and soon after, in 1953, on the occasion of a visit to Canada, Queen Elizabeth II and Duke Edinburgh granted the company the title of “Royal”. The company soon experienced the misfortune of a fire destroying nearly everything they called their own in 1954. It took them nearly five years to get back in shape and rebuild their repertoire, which now included works by great Canadian Choreographers such as Brian MacDonald, Michael Conte and Arnold Sporh.

The National Ballet of Canada was founded during the prime days of the Winnipeg Ballet in 1951 with Celia Franca coming from the Royal Ballet of Canada as artistic director. Their title of “national” was assumed, and not granted. In the early years of the National Ballet, Celia Franca concentrated in establishing a repertoire of standard classics from the Russian and Diaghilev Ballets Russes repertoires. She felt these were safe ballets that the company could undertake and win over an audience with.

The third original Ballet company in Canada was Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. It was founded in Montreal in 1952 as a television troupe and was directed by Ludmilla Chiriaeff. In the beginning, it was simply titled “Ballets Chriaeff”, however, when the company became more recognized, it undertook a more dynamic and practical title. It was one of the smallest companies, with less than twenty dancers and a repertoire built mainly of original ballets. It was also the first Canadian group to stage “La Fille Mal Gard e” in 1961.

These three companies are the core reasons for which ballet became so influential in Canada. They served as a base and companies grew from there, as well as themselves. Since all three professional companies were pressing for government support, the Canada Council in 1962 called on experts from outside the country for advice. As a result available funds were evenly distributed to all three companies and thus began the trend of Ballet in Canada.

In the late 1960 s the body became the place where you found yourself and became centered. For dance in Canada, the end of the 1960 s and beginnings of the 1970 s served as a golden age of looking forward and expanding. The National ballet added two new spectacular ballets to it s repertoire, being a newly adapted Nutcracker as well as a newly adapted Swan Lake. The ballet audience lavished and more than doubled, now exceeding more than 620 000 eager spectators. The new adaptations did away with classical story lines and footwork, and added symbolism and psychodrama. However, instead of hurting the arts in Canada, it expanded their horizons and the National Ballet school was praised for it s work. Winnipeg also continued to succeed through these years and instilled the aspect of marketing into the dance world calling their performances “one of the grooviest visual and sound treats to happen in Canadian theatre”

Moving into the 1980 s, after the resignations of Celia Franca and David Haber from the National Ballet of Canada, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet became the highlight of the three original companies. Having acquired Evelyn Hart and her successes in international competition, Sporh and the RWB began to move the company in the direction of performing more full length classics. In a way, they ventured back to what ballet used to be, and the did it at the best possible time. It provided a solid backbone for the company and completed their repertoire. At the same time, Les Grand Ballets also began to expand by bringing in many already acclaimed dancers. They began to make their name again, where for some time it had been somewhat lost. James Kudelka left the National Ballet to become a principal dancer for Les Grands Ballet and he made for a body of work that reinforced his reputation. People began to pay more and more attention to les Grands Ballets as Kudelka was named one of the best young choreographers to turn up in ballet in recent years.

All three companies continued to succeed due to points mentioned, as well as numerous other influential factors. Throughout the 1990 s and now, the beginnings of a new millennium, ballet still serves as the base and main style of dance. When Louis XIV danced in the late 1500 s he probably had no idea that his simple dance steps would evolve so far and become so much. Now, with many other styles of dance making progress, ballet would be very easy to be left in the dust, however, it continues to make progress and attract loving audiences everywhere. The teachings of dance continue throughout Canada, with the National Ballet School being the dominant force. By the looks of it, Ballet will continue to grow for many years to come.


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