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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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1. Ballet has been a late-comer among the arts in Canada, but in little more than ten years it has made astonishing progress. Rather to our surprise we have discovered, as was found in Great Britain, that classical ballet for so long thought exclusively indigenous to Russia, Italy and France, can be successfully transplanted; and, still somewhat self-consciously, with other English-speaking people, we are beginning to discern the fallacy in the ancient maxim, "no sober man ever dances", on which our attitude toward the dance has for so long been based. In 1939 there were three ballet companies in Canada; now there are at least twenty, in cities from Halifax to Vancouver, and in November of 1950, at the third Canadian Ballet Festival held in Montreal, fifteen Canadian companies presented twenty-three original Canadian ballets. The stage-settings and at least part of the music was the work of Canadian artists who are finding that the ballet in Canada is continuing its traditional receptiveness and hospitality to modern music and to modern art. Others must have shared our surprise to learn to what extent ballet has won popularity in Canada: a press-report, as we write early in January of 1951, states that 80,000 letters were received requesting tickets for the performances in Toronto of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company, seven or eight times more than the seating capacity for all performances.

2. In an informative and helpful submission from the Canadian Ballet Festival Association we were informed that

"ballet in Canada has been pioneered by dancers from Europe who have brought the training and the culture of the old world to the new. They have been joined and supported by native Canadians and they together are uniting the best of both the old traditions and the dynamic new strength that typifies Canada, to create a Canadian dance form.
"One of the pioneers was Boris Volkoff, who was trained in the State Ballet School of Moscow, and had world-wide experience as a dancer before opening his school in Toronto in 1930. By 1936 the Volkoff dancers represented Canada in the Olympic Games in Germany. Two years later Volkoff Canadian Ballet was formed. This company has since been a leader in the Canadian dance field.
"Another of the pioneers was Miss Gweneth Lloyd, a graduate of the Royal Academy, London, England. . . . Miss Lloyd soon


formed a Ballet Club to promote a further interest in the dance in her adopted city. From this gradually developed the Winnipeg Ballet whose first public appearance was before the King and Queen, as part of the City of Winnipeg Pageant in 1939. Since then the Winnipeg Ballet has made rapid progress and is today Canada's first professional Ballet Company."1

3. In 1939 a Ballet Company was formed in London, Ontario, which performed with the London Civic Symphony Orchestra. Dissolved during the war, this Company was reconstituted in 1947. More recently, additional ballet companies have been formed in Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa; and in Halifax a Ballet School of the Conservatory of Music, founded by two distinguished dancers from Latvia, attracted wide interest and popular support in the Maritimes. We have also been informed that other ballet groups are now being formed in Regina, Calgary and Edmonton.

4. On the initiative of the Winnipeg Ballet group, the first Canadian Ballet Festival was held in Winnipeg in 1948 with visiting companies from Toronto and Montreal. The second Festival, held in Toronto in March of 1949, presented eleven companies performing twenty-one ballets for most of which the music was written by Canadian composers. The Festival was a great popular and artistic success; and through the effective co-operation of the C.B.C. and of the National Film Board it awakened interest in the ballet throughout Canada. It is the hope of the Ballet Festival Association that public interest thus created will help to prepare a professional field for Canadian dancers, thus enabling them to earn their livelihood by the practice of their art in their own country, a desirable objective which has not yet been realized.

5. We have been assured on good authority that there is no inherent obstacle to the development in Canada of ballet on a national scale comparable artistically with anything that is being done elsewhere in the world. Indeed we were informed that Winnipeg in particular is fortunate as a centre of ballet, with its high standards of music and with its thousands of people of Slavic and Central European background to whom the dance is a natural and habitual form of self-expression. It was pointed out to us again in Halifax that Canadian youngsters are quick and eager to learn, and that with competent instruction there is nothing to prevent the growth in Canada of a national ballet comparable to that of Sadler's Wells, which beginning from almost nothing, in twenty years has become one of the world's great ballet companies. For this development in Great Britain, however, three things were necessary: strong public support, rigorous training and skilled instruction, (it has been observed that in the ballet, as in surgery, there can be no amateur status), and some source of financial aid, since in all countries for the production of ballet, as of opera, either private or state subventions have been necessary.


6. It has been suggested to us that the impediments to the growth of ballet in Canada are analogous to those which deter the revival of the legitimate stage: lack of suitable quarters for rehearsal and performance, the crippling cost of travel over our vast distances, a scarcity of competent instructors, the absence of a school of advanced training, and a need of scholarships for our promising young artists to assist them, either in Canada or abroad, through the minimum period of six years' training essential to a professional ballet career. Very much the same arguments which advocated the encouragement of the drama on a national scale have been advanced to support the cause of ballet in Canada and to propose solutions for the problems of gifted young Canadians whose talents are revealed each year by the National Ballet Festival but who cannot then look forward to careers in Canada. It seems apparent to us that although the voluntary organizations (notably the Canadian Ballet Festival Association and the few well-established ballet groups and schools) have done and can do notable work unaided, the development of ballet in Canada on a level with Canadian achievement in the other arts will depend upon the adoption of suitable and practicable means to provide professional careers for Canadians in their own country and an important outlet for the creative abilities of Canadian artists and musicians.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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