National Ballet of Canada
|National Ballet of Canada|
|Name||National Ballet of Canada|
|Principal venue||Four Seasons Centre|
|Executive Director||Barry Hughson|
|Artistic Director||Karen Kain|
|Music Director||David Briskin|
|Associated schools||The National Ballet School of Canada|
One of the top international ballet companies, The National Ballet of Canada was founded in 1951 by Celia Franca. A company of 70 dancers with its own orchestra, the National Ballet has been led by Artistc Director Karen Kain, one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation, since 2005. Renowned for its diverse repertoire, the company performs traditional full-length classics, embraces contemporary work and encourages the creation of new ballets as well as the development of Canadian choreographers. The company’s repertoire includes works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Rudolf Nureyev, John Neumeier, William Forsythe, James Kudelka, Wayne McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky, Crystal Pite, Christopher Wheeldon, Aszure Barton, Guillaume Côté and Robert Binet. The National Ballet tours in Canada, the US and internationally with appearances in Paris, London, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Hamburg, New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Creation of The National Ballet of Canada
In 1951, the two major ballet companies in Canada were the Royal Winnipeg Ballet headed by Gweneth Lloyd and the Volkoff Canadian Ballet founded by Boris Volkoff which was based in Toronto. With the aim of create a more widely based Canadian ballet troupe, following the example set by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, a group of Canadian ballet enthusiasts set out to create the National Ballet of Canada. Both Lloyd and Volkoff were interested in being the first artistic director of the company, but the organizers agreed that the only way to ensure an unbiased selection of dancers for the new ballet company was to hire an outsider. They chose British dancer and choreographer Celia Franca, who had many connections within the dance community and had been to Canada only twice at that point, as artistic director.
Franca at first showed little interest interested in heading this new company; she had refused similar invitations in Australia and South Africa and liked living in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, when she came to Canada in 1951 to attend a festival, the founders again asked her to consider the position. Franca accepted the job and became the first artistic director, while Volkoff was appointed as Resident Choreographer.  Conductor George Crum acted as Musical Director.
In August 1951 what was then The National Ballet Guild of Canada launched its first cross-country audition tour. By the end of the month, the ballet had chosen 29 dancers for the troupe  and was rehearsing for their first performance in the St. Lawrence Hall.
For The National Ballet Guild of Canada's early performances, Franca chose classic ballets, as she believed this would allow the dancers to be properly judged by the international dance community. The first performance was in the Eaton Auditorium on November 12, 1951. The program included Les Sylphides and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.
The company toured Canada extensively, with Franca, Lois Smith and David Adams as its stars. In 1964 the National adopted the 3200-seat O'Keefe Centre (now known as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) in Toronto as its home venue. The company moved in 2006 to new facilities at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
In 1976 Alexander Grant, former Principal Dancer with London's Royal Ballet and Artistic Director of Ballet for All, became the Artistic Director of The National. Under his leadership, The National Ballet added a number of works by Frederick Ashton to its repertoire. The National Ballet of Canada became the first Canadian company to perform at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London in 1979.
In 1989 Reid Anderson became the artistic director. He led the company though a difficult economic recession by choreographing traditional ballet pieces while also commissioning Canadian and international choreographers to create contemporary pieces. In 1995 he left the company citing a frustration of the continued funding cuts from the government, and the directorship was taken up in 1996 by choreographer James Kudelka.
In 2005 Karen Kain, former Principal Dancer became Artistic Director of the Company. In 2009 she introduced Innovation – a mixed programme featuring three world premieres by Canadian choreographers Crystal Pite, Sabrina Matthews, and Peter Quanz.
The National Ballet of Canada remains Canada's largest and most influential dance company.
The National Ballet School of Canada
The National Ballet School was founded in 1959 by Celia Franca and Julia Bondy and was directed for many years by co-founder Betty Oliphant. The primary goal of the school is to train dancers for the National Ballet of Canada and also for companies across Canada and around the world. Graduates of the School include Frank Augustyn, Neve Campbell, Anne Ditchburn, Rex Harrington, Karen Kain (current Artistic Director of the Company), James Kudelka (former Artistic Director of the Company), Veronica Tennant, Martine Lamy, John Alleyne, Emmanuel Sandhu, and Mavis Staines (Artistic Director and Co-CEO of the School).
Rudolf Nureyev danced with the company in 1965 and returned in 1972 to stage his version of The Sleeping Beauty. His work is credited to raising the standards of the company. He was responsible for bringing the Company to Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House in New York City where he showcased the company. The Ballet met with rave reviews and this was a pivotal point in receiving recognition internationally. Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn, two members of NBC, received the prize for best pas de deux at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1973. The following year, in 1974, while on a tour in Canada, Mikhail Baryshnikov defected and requested political asylum in Toronto and joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. His first televised performance after coming out of temporary seclusion in Canada was with the National Ballet of Canada in a version of La Sylphide.
Principal Character Artists
Prominent National Ballet dancers
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- Natalia Makarova, A Dance Autobiography (Knopf 1979), p. 152.