For the 2011/12 season in celebration of the 60th Anniversary, a historical display entitled Celebrating
60 Glorious Years of The National Ballet of Canada was created to highlight the artistry and
dedication of the individuals who create the evocative performances which
continue to inspire audiences today. The
display was sponsored by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund and THE VOLUNTEER COMMITTEE, THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA.
The exhibit travelled across the country,
joining the company on tour to Western Canada in the fall, as well as being featured in community venues across the City of Toronto including the Toronto Reference Library, Canada’s National Ballet School, the Hilton
Toronto, the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, the National Film Board
Médiathèque, TIFF Kids International Film Festival and at the National Ballet's Gretchen Ross Production Centre as a part of Doors Open Toronto.
The display was also the focal feature of The National Ballet of Canada week launched on November 14, 2011 by Mayor Rob Ford
at Toronto City Hall for the opening week of the 2011/12 season.
See the Music, Hear the Dance
Telling a Story Without Words
A Holiday Tradition on Stage
The National Ballet has a rich past fueled by an incredible
amount of hard work and planning. Three Toronto volunteer organizers, Sydney
Mulqueen, Pearl Whitehead and Aileen Woods, dreamed of building a Canadian
ballet company and sought someone with enough resourcefulness for the task.
They found that talent in budding choreographer and visionary Celia Franca, who
formed The National Ballet of Canada as a classical company in 1951. Humble
beginnings and financial struggles soon gave way to success.
Demand quickly surpassed the capacity of Toronto’s Eaton
Auditorium and performances were moved to the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1953
and then to the newly-opened O’Keefe Centre in 1964. In 2006 the company moved
to its current performance location, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing
Arts, which is the first purpose-built theatre for ballet and opera in Canada.
The National Ballet of Canada embodies a lasting commitment
to the passionate artistry that has kept the company vibrant for sixty years.
Today, the National Ballet is the only Canadian company to present traditional
full-length classics in addition to contemporary ballets and has toured the
world extensively, earning an international reputation for excellence. Under
the artistic direction of Karen Kain,
the National Ballet is thriving and looking forward to many more years of
“It is my dream that The National Ballet of
Canada endures forever and ever.” Celia Franca, Founder
Choreography translates stories and ideas into form and
motion. Finding inspiration from music, emotion and imagination, a
choreographer brings dance to life by guiding dancers to interpret roles and
make them their own.
Celebrated dancer Rudolf Nureyev first set his magnificent
version of The Sleeping Beauty on The
National Ballet of Canada in 1972. The ballet had been in the company’s
repertoire since 1951 but at the time, the new version was the company’s most
extravagant and expensive production ever undertaken.
The Sleeping Beauty
was presented across North America, and the company had its New York debut at
the Metropolitan Opera House to rave reviews, bringing the National Ballet
worldwide attention and firmly positioning it within the international ballet
community. Since that time, Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty has become one of
the company’s signature productions and continues to be performed to this day
alongside a range of full-length classics including Romeo and Juliet and Swan
Lake. The National Ballet also performs a large number of modern
choreographic works, such as Chroma, Emergence and The Seagull.
“Restaged with passion, precision and great
affection by Karen Kain, The Sleeping Beauty remains a brilliant showcase, not just for the romantic pair at the
heart of the story, but for an entire company that seems to relish a
magnificent opportunity to strut its stuff in the grandest of balletic
traditions.” Toronto Sun, 2004
See the Music, Hear the Dance
Hearing an orchestra live makes all listeners aware of what
an extraordinarily integral and thrilling part it plays in the ballet-going
The National Ballet of Canada is one of the few companies to
have its own orchestra, which has been in place since its founding in 1951.
George Crum, a pioneer of the arts in Canada, became the company’s first Music
Director, building the fledgling ballet company into the great institution it
is today alongside Founder Celia Franca. Upon his retirement in 1984 he was named
Music Director Emeritus in honour of his significant contribution to the
development of the National Ballet.
Currently the orchestra has more than 60 members, led by
Music Director and Principal Conductor David Briskin.
The orchestra remains an essential component of the overall performance,
playing beautiful renditions of scores ranging from 19th century masterworks to
completely new compositions.
is to be envied for its National Ballet, not only because of their fantastic
dancers, but also because of its orchestra.” Stuttgarter
Zeitung, Germany, 2000
Telling a Story Without Words
Narrative ballets are frequently inspired by traditional
stories or historical events. Choreographers often tell familiar stories using
a combination of movement, mime and characters.
One of the oldest full-length ballets, Giselle has long been referred to as the Hamlet of dance due to the dramatic breadth expressed by the
ballerina in the title role, ranging from innocence through to madness and
otherworldliness. The National Ballet of Canada has been staging Giselle since the founding of the
company in 1951 and many great dancers have performed the role of Giselle as
their farewell, including Celia Franca, Mary Jago and Chan Hon Goh.
The National Ballet has added story ballets to its repertoire
throughout its lengthy history including Swan
Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, La Fille mal gardée, Onegin and The Merry Widow, showcasing the depth and range of its artists over
generations. Today narrative ballets
continue to be beloved by National Ballet audiences, from the enduring
favourite The Nutcracker, to newer
productions such as An Italian Straw Hat
and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“When Giselle’s underlying themes of love, betrayal,
forgiveness and redemption are told through the poetry of dance, they take on a
power that is almost epic in its ability to stir the emotions.” National
A Holiday Tradition on Stage
Although the dancers and choreography are the heart of a
ballet, the spectacle of the show is created behind the scenes. Set, costume,
lighting and make-up designs create the atmosphere and set the mood for the
production on stage.
The Nutcracker is
well-known for the lavish costumes, sets and staging that have helped make it a
perennial favourite. Since 1952, The
Nutcracker has been part of the National Ballet’s repertoire, but in 1964 it
was re-staged with new choreography by Celia Franca after Marius Petipa and
sets and costumes by Jürgen
Rose. At the time, this was the most expensive theatrical
production in Canada, costing approximately $100,000. This version charmed
audiences with its beautiful design for thirty years.
In 1995, the production was re-staged by James Kudelka featuring a Russian setting and has continued
the tradition of annually dazzling audiences with its magnificent visuals. The
production cost approximately $2.7 million to create, and to date has earned
$41 million in box office revenue.
“TheNutcracker looks fresher than ever and it can still warm hearts and dazzle
audiences with its sumptuous design, dynamic dancing and numerous surprises.”
The National Post, 2010
In 1951, when Celia Franca was asked by a group of Toronto
volunteers to start a company, she had very little time to find dancers and
plan a performance. From this exciting first year, the caliber of performance
has continued to escalate, in part due to the increasing international
representation within the company. The National Ballet’s dancers first came from
across the country and now they come from around the world.
Dance instructors, physiotherapists, massage therapists,
orthopedic surgeons and movement specialists work together to maintain dancers’
health, strengthening them against injury. Professional dancers train
rigorously so they can perform challenging movements that appear effortless to
the audience. They attend company class every day prior to a full day of
rehearsals five days a week.
Dancers must be incredibly strong and flexible to perform
ballet’s demanding movements. In partner work, both dancers must be aware of
their own movements, as well as their partner's body, balance, and timing.
Although more complicated, partnering allows dancers to perform an additional
range of movements, including lifts, turns, and throws. This combination of dramatic intensity and graceful
performance embodies the love many people have for dance and keeps them
returning to the theatre over and over again.
“The National Ballet
of Canada’s dancers suggest a willingness to explore, and that is the sort of
imperative that will keep dance alive.” Ballet
Review (UK), 2010