"We Were Working on a Dream"
The Legacy of Adelle and Paul Deacon
March 17, 2022
Adelle and Paul Deacon. Courtesy of the Deacon family.
From their first involvement with The National Ballet of Canada in 1959, Adelle and Paul Deacon quickly became enthusiasts, advocates and philanthropists. Over the years they joined the company on tours, travelled with dancers to competitions and hosted many post-performance receptions. After receiving a panicked phone call that a costume had been forgotten in Toronto, Paul picked it up and flew down to New York City with a tutu on his lap and joined Adelle there for opening night.
In 1972 Adelle and Paul led the campaign to fund the new production of The Sleeping Beauty. “Everyone realized we were working on a dream,” Adelle said in 2009. Today their personal legacy of passion and dedication lives on through each revival of this landmark production and through their named fund within the Endowment Foundation.
This year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Sleeping Beauty, we asked Adelle and Paul’s children about their memories of that time and what their parents’ legacy means to them now. The four remaining siblings reminisced and shared a few stories.
Veronica Tennat in rehearsal with Rudolf Nureyev, 1972. Courtesy of Toronto Star.
I have memories of overhearing my parents talk about the opportunity that Rudolf Nureyev and this new ballet would offer to the company and the financial challenges facing the Board. I did not know anything about their personal financial commitment until the late 1990s when former Principal Dancer Frank Augustyn told us. He was writing a memoir and said he had included the story of my parents mortgaging their home to help fund The Sleeping Beauty.
Hearing that didn’t surprise me. I learned from my parents that it takes more than a monetary donation to support a cause. For years, they attended most performances in Toronto and even flew around the country and internationally to enjoy the dancing and to help gather financial support for the company.
I feel connected to the National Ballet even this many years later because of the love and appreciation my parents had for the company and because of the many people of the company who became family. While this wonderful company continues to thrive, it’s nice to know that the work and contributions of the Board of Directors as a whole, and its individual members in those formative years, are appreciated.
The Deacons heading over to Ontario Place Forum to see ballet, circa 1973/1974. Selected by Andrew Deacon.
My parents exemplified dedication – to excellence and to the dancers. Dad was invited to join the Board by long-time friend Lyman Henderson. They sensed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when Rudolf Nureyev offered his Sleeping Beauty (when other companies would have been clamouring for it!). For financing, however, they were turned down flatly at the banks, trying to borrow on a reputation. But a friendly banker became amenable when the idea of a mortgage on the house came up. Given the economic climate of the day, it would've been very scary.
When Frank "spilled the beans" about the mortgage and we soaked in this news, we were yet more in awe of what courage, love and commitment means! Modest, Mum continued to redirect conversations to the fun stories of audiences’ responses to the ballet at home in Canada and on tour to New York and London. She equally wished to defer and share the praise on the subject of how a way was found to get The Sleeping Beauty funded!
Jennifer Deacon, Veronica Tennant and Anne Deacon, 2015. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
I grew up thinking it was normal to go to the ballet almost every night, watch from the wings when there was no seat, "assist" with make-up and then fall asleep in a dressing room once the show had started. As a result, I had many wonderful sibling-esque people in my life.
That level of personal involvement is what brought it all to life for us and affected the way my parents approached potential supporters. They understood that once a person has met the dancers and learned about what it takes to make it onto that stage, those elements humanize the art form and make it both more relatable and intriguing. With this added dimension, they were able to sway even some very reluctant fans.
Through the 70s, dinner topics revolved around the productions, the challenges of keeping the company afloat and of course the dancers. I was four when The Sleeping Beauty launched and although I can’t recall much from that time, I remember that Beauty was a very important centre of conversation, energy and focus in our household.
During ballet season, dinner was a home-made sandwich in the car, racing down Jarvis Street to the then O'Keefe Centre while my mum and dad went over the names of their sponsor guests the way actors run lines. My parents genuinely loved the company and the dancers, and their determination to introduce "new converts" never wavered. Even when we moved to Ottawa, this continued. Ballet brought them so much joy and they believed it would for other people as well. The core value that formed for us, is that the Arts, in all forms, are essential and the importance of making the arts more accessible to more people, starting at a young age.
"I admire the dancers’ resolve and dreams – anything we can do to help them shine is beautifully appreciated. Paul and I set up a Named Fund within the Endowment Foundation to ensure that there will always be funds to continue to support these wonderful artists. They are a brave crew and I am very grateful to them." Adelle Deacon, 2009
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