Your Story is Our History
Your story is our history! We are collecting stories and memories about the company from alumni, audience members and supporters both past and present. We are proud of our extraordinary history and by telling us your story you will be helping preserve the heritage of the company.
Lasting impressions of a performance, productions that made you see ballet in a whole new light, recollections of your time performing or working with the company – we want to hear your story.
Read a Memory
"In Montreal, my home city, my father took me to see the National Ballet perform at His Majesty's Theatre on Guy St., where they were visiting with performances of Swan Lake and I loved every minute of it. Reflecting on it, the stage was small, there was not a large Corps, but it was sheer magic to me. When I moved to Toronto in 1974, I went to as many performances as I could afford, seeing the company become bigger, stronger, better. John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet with Veronica Tennant was a favourite. When my daughter was four years old, I began to take her to the story ballets and she joined me as a fan. When the new theatre was built, I obtained splendid seats with my subscription - in the third balcony in the centre! Now I prefer modern ballets - loved Glass Pieces. It's all wonderful. It's been a grand trip."
- Dr. Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove, Subscriber & Donor, 5+ years
"Today we saw the last March Break performance of Romeo and Juliet. It was perfect date for my mom and I. I was very pleased with the fact that Brendan Saye and Chelsy Meiss performed the leads. Considering that they haven't been in the company very long and are both in a lower ranking (Corps de Ballet member and Second Soloist) is definitely a big step. But they performed like Principal Dancers! I hope you will have both do lead roles in more productions. Thanks!"
- Ms. Nicole Bezeau, Audience Member, Less than 5 years
"My husband and I saw Nijinsky today. I have been a ballet fan for years and a subscriber for some of those. To my delight my husband had never seen one and loves opera and classical music, so was enthralled from the first moment on. We were delighted to see Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in the first production and again this season as well. Ballet has always touched me but today it made my heart hurt. I am so glad we came. I was/am fascinated by Nijinsky before but now I shall temper my fascination with a veil of tears. Well done Karen Kain, Skylar Campbell, and company."
- Ms. Paula Seymour, Subscriber, 5+ years
"On December 31, 1966 after The National Ballet of Canada had finished a performance run of The Nutcracker at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre, the company was scheduled to travel to Vancouver with the production and perform in a few days time. But the freight car carrying the company’s sets and costumes had been side-railed and no commercial airline or the Canadian National Railway could guarantee they would arrive on time. Artistic Director Celia Franca refused to believe that the situation was hopeless, and phoned the only person in the country who had the power to rescue the situation by sending out an air force plane on a rescue mission - the Minister of Defense Paul Hellyer. Hellyer immediately agreed and dispatched a Hercules transport plane from Cold Lake, Alberta on "Mission National Ballet". On January 4, 1967 the curtains opened at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre to full sets and costumes."
- Carol Bishop-Gwyn, Audience Member and Author of The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca
"On December 22, 2012 I attended The Nutcracker with my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter - this will be the best memory of the season. She sat and listened to the story and then sat and watched the full ballet - except at the beginning when she wanted to dance beside her chair. During intermission she chose to perform for people in the lobby. For the last two months we have been watching the different performances of The Nutcracker on YouTube and she will sit for hours and watch and then do her version of the dances. On the way home to Port Hope on the train she was telling everyone that she went to the ballet. She will be beginning dance classes next spring and we are looking forward to seeing another ballet by the National Ballet - beautiful and very special memories now - thank you!"
- Miss Deborah Wood, Audience Member
"My husband and I have only recently started attending the ballet. I myself love it, my husband can appreciate parts of it. Last night we watched Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and both of us were amazed. The production value was spectacular and the dancing was mesmerizing. My eyes were fixed on Alice most of the time but when the knave of hearts appeared, wow. I couldn't look away. I loved how strong and masculine his dance style is, and yet it is smooth and gentle. And the queen of hearts presented such a strong and classical style. The entire piece was breathtaking. Neither of us even noticed three hours had passed, which is surprising for my husband who previously fell asleep at a show. I know I'm looking forward to Romeo and Juliet."
- Ms. Helen Elia Parkitny, Subscriber
"Where do I start? The memories are endless! My first ballet was The Nutcracker at the then Hummingbird Centre, and my aunt and me a small 9 year old, instantly fell in love with the dance of ballet. We then agreed to see Cinderella, and then we agreed to see Swan Lake. All 3 of these ballets put me in the edge of my seat. When we saw Swan Lake, I instantly knew that Heather Ogden and Guillame Côté were meant to be a couple. Their chemistry in dancing the leads was that strong. After taking a 9 year hiatus, my aunt and I decided to see The Nutcracker again, this time at the Four Seasons Centre, and my love for ballet was instantly renewed. We then saw The Sleeping Beauty and we saw Heather Ogden and Guillame Côté dancing the leads once again and I remember Guillame Côté happily giving his beautiful wife showing his love for her during curtain call. I cannot wait to see Alice's Adventures in Wonderland later this month, and I hope to pass on my love of ballet to my children (that is if I decide to have them). Thank you dancers!"
- Nicole Bezeau, Audience Member
"In the fall of 1972, my college roommate and I were reading in our dorm room at the University of California, Santa Cruz one rainy Sunday afternoon. Susie was from the Bay Area, and was reading the San Francisco Chronicle. We'd talked about going to The City some weekend. She looked up from the paper and said, "Oh, here's an ad for a ballet performance in February - maybe we could go up that weekend." I said that sounded good. She said it was the Canadian Ballet doing Swan Lake, and then hesitated and said, "It says there's this guy dancing with them, but I can't pronounce it - Nur-something." I said, "Rudolf Nureyev?" and Susie said, "Yeah. Is that good?" I almost fell off my bunk. So we went to the San Francisco Opera House in February 1973 and watched Rudolf Nureyev and Karen Kain dance Swan Lake. Wow. I was especially impressed with Miss Kain because I thought that most people came to watch Nureyev - and he was certainly good - but Karen Kain was superb. I'll never ever forget that performance, and am delighted to have the opportunity to thank Miss Kain for the joy of watching her performance."
- Lannae, Audience Member, 35+ years
"In the early 1990s, my mom and I travelled to Toronto for my first National Ballet of Canada show which was one of Karen Kain's final Swan Lake performances ever. (Even more nostalgic: I was named Karen after Karen Kain, who had won a major International Award just before I was born.) My mom, my grandmother and I enjoyed an amazing night at the ballet and my pre-teen self spent a year's allowance on dance related goodness at the on-site gift shop. As a dance crazed pre-teen, this was the experience of a lifetime. Although I no longer dance and haven't for over a decade, this performance and the enthusiasm of the arts community cemented my adult support for Canadian arts.
Although I've never met Karen (but have had the chance to meet other dancers from the National Ballet through work) that night always stands out as pure magic. For young ballet students, for families and for young women everywhere, Karen Kain is an icon and a hero. As an adult, my admiration for her continued to grow as she steadily grew knowledge of the need for an active, supported ballet community.
Now, with my mom having passed from Pancreatic Cancer last year, the National Ballet holds an even greater place in my heart as so many memories equate to great ballet nights with her. Thanks for so many years of amazing performances but especially for that incredible Swan Lake!"
- Ms. Karen Moores, Audience Member, 20+ years
"Having become a new Canadian citizen at the beginning of April, 1964, as a special gift my mother surprised me with tickets to see the first performance of Romeo and Juliet at the O’Keefe Centre. The performances by Galina Samtsova and especially Earl Kraul were absolutely superb. Now every April I think of this special month in my life and the most wonderful introduction to Canada and the National Ballet."
- Mr. Dieter Reimers, Audience Member, 45+ years
"My mom has 5 younger sisters. One of them is an artist and I always thought she was my "cool" aunt Chrissie. When I was little, I lived in Winnipeg and, having only two sons and a husband with no interest in ballet, she took me to the ballet regularly. I still remember many of the ballets we saw vividly, including Carmen, Swan Lake, and even The Legend of Lizzie Borden. My mother was not impressed with her sister after I came home dancing and spinning tales of axe murders! But I loved every minute.
Now, as an adult, I have my own season tickets to the National Ballet here in Toronto and I have been going regularly for several years (more than five but I'm not sure if it's an even ten yet!). Two years ago, my cool aunt Chrissie came to visit us in Toronto and her visit happened to coincide with one of the National Ballet's performances; Don Quixote. I purchased an extra ticket and took my aunt to the ballet. When we arrived and took our seats, she started crying and was telling everyone sitting around us that she used to take me to the ballet as a child and now I was taking her, 30 years later. I almost started crying myself! She loved the performance, as did I, and still tells that story to friends and family. I will always be grateful to Chrissie for introducing me to the ballet and fostering my love of the arts. In January 2012, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Scarlet, and I can't wait to take her to her first ballet. Once that happens we will have truly come full circle :)"
- Ms. Sheila Balkissoon, Subscriber & Donor
"One of the many memories from my 36 years as a musician with the company involves our beloved Associate Conductor, John Goss, who died tragically in 1986 in a traffic accident while vacationing in Barbados following a run of The Nutcracker.
While touring the east coast of Canada we were both attending a costume party for the dancers and musicians and John came dressed as a ‘backwards conductor’. I can’t remember exactly how he achieved this effect, but I presume he had on his tux jacket with the buttons at the back, or some such thing. We were touring Giselle, which features a short horn call in act one played in the pit and mimed on stage by Hilarion. Inspired by John’s choice of costume we conspired to play the horn call (which involves alternating two notes a fifth apart) actually ‘backwards’ at the next performance he was to conduct. Furthermore, to add to the effect, and to include his active participation in the ‘event’, he would turn completely away to cue me, in effect, conducting me ‘backwards’.
It seemed a good idea at the time, but as the moment approached the burden of responsibility began to weigh more heavily upon me. Not that the call was particularly difficult to play, but in its inverted ‘backward’ form, it did start on a higher note, and not the best note to hit every time on the french horn. The moment arrived, John turned away from me to conduct some phantom horn player on the other side of the pit, and I tooted away in reverse, wondering what was to become of us for our mischief that night. To my relief the altered call was a success, much to the undoubted confusion of my fellow musicians. While I’m sure they all noticed that something seemed ‘different’ that night, we’ll never know just how many members of the audience, or indeed the dancers were aware that they were there to experience the one and only ‘backwards’ Giselle horn call in dance history.
John was a wonderful human being, dedicated to the National Ballet, and all of us who knew him were incredibly saddened by his untimely passing, and will always miss the years we may have shared with him."
- Mr. Gary Pattison, Orchestra Member, 1977 to present
"I remember being a teenager in London, Ontario. I had grown to love the ballet by being taken to see performances of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake at the old Grand Theatre. There was one fall day when I was walking home from school and I saw a poster for an upcoming touring performance by the National Ballet. The poster was a picture of Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn in the first act of Giselle. I got so excited I raced home and begged my mother to buy me a ticket. She told me they were too expensive but if I really wanted one she would help me out if I earned half the cost on my own. I spent the next couple of weeks doing odd jobs around the neighbourhood and saving part of my lunch money each day until I had exactly half the cost of the ticket. My mother was true to her word and gave me the other half as well as permission to miss the first class of school so that I could go stand in line at the theatre for a ticket. The day the tickets went on sale I raced down to the Grand Theatre and was the first in line when the box office opened. I got my ticket for the opening night of Giselle, dead centre in the front row of the balcony. For weeks I waited for that performance and when the big night arrived I was so excited I could barely eat my dinner. I got dressed up in my best clothes and my parents drove me down to the theatre. I still remember the rush I felt as I finally entered the auditorium of that glorious old theatre and took my seat. Finally the lights dimmed and the ballet began. Veronica Tennant and Sergiu Stefanschi were the Principal Dancers at that performance and I remember how beautifully they danced together. The sets for the ballet looked like a faded postcard of the Romantic ballet period, especially the second act with its spooky forest scene. By the time of the big second act Pas de Deux, a hush had fallen over the theatre as the audience sat spellbound by the beauty of the dancing. That night changed my life and began my lifelong passion for the ballet in general and the National Ballet in particular. I have continued to be a loyal patron of the National Ballet and wish it well for the next 60 years."
- Mr. William Rowcliffe, Audience Member, 40+ years
"Although at the time it was not funny to me this has now become one of the funniest stories that I tell to people. I think it was either as an Apprentice or my first year in the corps and we were performing Coppélia. One of my roles was as the Columbine Doll in the toy workshop scene and I was determined to be the best Columbine ever. To my memory the act is quite long when you are just standing there like a statue. After being wound up and doing a short dance with my Harlequin all the dolls settle back for what seems like an eternity while the Principal Dancers perform. After about five minutes of absolutely no blinking (this was a personal challenge) and staring at the red exit sign on the wall located in the audience, I started to feel a little peculiar. Now, I had been told the stories of a few dancers over the years fainting during this scene, but I was not going to be one of them. I probably had my weight back on my heels too much and my head started to fog over. I started seeing spots and before long I was losing consciousness. Now anyone who knows me knows that I don't give up easily and so passing out for me was certainly not an option. I didn't want to be another dancer pulled off the stage by their ankles by a Stage Hand after dropping to the floor. So as the blood left my head I stubbornly fought to stay alert, in the process of fighting this natural consequence I proceeded to stagger around half conscious with locked knees at the back of the stage during Karen's (Kain) solo like a demented possessed Frankenstein doll never dropping my stiff bent arm position. This staggering felt like it lasted some time but it was probably just a minute as the lurching around luckily brought me back to my senses and I made my way back to my original spot on the stage. I resumed the pose and like the consummate professional I am I never batted an eyelid (which started this whole darn problem!) After the act was over I made my way backstage completely mortified and apologetic and I think I may have shed a tear. I remember Joanne Nisbet quickly coming to meet me at the back and ask if I was alright. It was lovely how she told me not to worry and made me feel better telling me that during the event she had turned to the person next to her and exclaimed in her British accent ..."Oh look, Amber's gone for a toddle." Thank you Joanne, for being such a gem."
- Miss Amber Armstrong, Alumni, Dancer 1986-1997
"At Christmas time in 1964, I was with my two children watching The Nutcracker. Sitting beside us was a lively young man who was enjoying himself and our two children’s pleasure. He was Rudolf Nureyev. His excitement at watching the performance was contagious. A few weeks later, my husband and I saw him dance with Lynn Seymour in La Sylphide. No male dancer has ever excited me as much as he did. I am eighty years old and I remember it like it was yesterday."
- Mrs. Louise Slemin, Audience Member, 45+ years
"As a fledgling actor I performed in The Holly and the Ivy in the Toronto Library theatre and another member of the company was Doris Tennant, Veronica Tennant's mom. One day she announced that she had a spare ticket for The Nutcracker with Veronica and Jeremy Blanton - my first ballet. Years later, as Chairman of Actors Equity Association I headed the team that negotiated the new contract with the National Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg with 3 National Ballet dancer reps - Charles Kirby, Alastair Munro and Leonard Stepanick as part of the association team; a great chance to see more ballets and make some great friends. So... in 1975 when I was offered the position of Company Manager I jumped at the chance. Since we had met as equals during the contract negotiations, I became one of the few members of the team that called Celia, Celia, rather than Miss Franca like all the rest.
On my first day on the job, the company gathered in Studio 1 to be introduced to the new Company Manager. In typical Robertson fashion and wanting to be seen as one of the group I entered the studio and swung my leg up onto the barre unfortunately my heel hit one of the bolts that held the barre to the turn buckle. So throughout the company meeting I could feel a trickle of blood running down my ankle into my sock.
The first place I took the company in my new role was The Metropolitan Opera House in New York. As an actor I followed opening night tradition and placed a split of champagne on every dancer’s makeup table. The fundraising department had been organizing a project involving copper medallions featuring Rudolf Nureyev designed by Dora de Pedery-Hunt. It was decided to present #1 to Rudolf himself and I was asked to arrange a meeting at the intermission for Assistant General Manager Jacques Mizne to make the presentation. I accompanied a very nervous Jacques to Rudolf's dressing room. The medallion set in a suede frame was dutifully presented and in the transfer the medallion fell out and rolled across the floor. Luckily Jacques did not pass out but he certainly lost a lot of colour in his face."
- Mr. Hamish Robertson, Alumni, Staff 1975-1978
"I have several memories. One is my involvement with the 1990 Choreographic Workshop with my piece Kara choreographed by Yuri Ng and danced by Margaret Illmann, James Taylor and Clair Vince - all brilliantly done. I got to know a lot of wonderful people.
Another is seeing as my first ballet ever - Rudolf Nureyev's The Sleeping Beauty in 1972 as a 4/5 year old live at The O'Keefe Centre (now the Hummingbird Centre).
A third is attending the retirement gala for Veronica Tennant and a fourth is The Nutty Nutcracker which was an absolute gem! Congrats and thanks for ALL the memories."
- Ms. Catherine Margaret, Audience Member & Former Usher, 30+ years
"Back in the 1960's when I was in public school in London, Ontario, I always looked forward to the presentations by the volunteers of the National Ballet Guild. It was because of them that I attended my first ballet, Swan Lake, danced by the National Ballet in London. Do I ever remember Celia Franca! She had the most mesmerizing and scary presence for a young kid like me. I adored Veronica Tennant, Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn. The superbly trained dancers and the magical quality of the performances of the National Ballet have never let me down. Now I can share your beauty and talent with my step-daughters and their young daughters. Thanks for the memories and for future memories!
PS - my favourite ballet is Romeo and Juliet. The choreography and the music transport me to some unworldly sphere."
- Ms. Elizabeth Ladich, Audience Member, 40+ years
"My first memory of the ballet was from when I was in Grade 5. My teacher, Miss Swithenbank treated the class to an afternoon at the ballet. I remember going all the way downtown and went up to our seats and the rest is, pardon the cliché, magic. The ballet was Swan Lake and I was absolutely mesmerized. I remember it in great detail, maybe because it was my first. Years later, I have seen many ballets and will continue to do so. I wish I could just once contact that dear teacher and thank her again and let her know what a powerful impact that field trip had on one of her former students."
- Mrs. Susan Stead, Audience Member, 55+ years
"I was Stage Manager for the 1959/60 season, hired by Celia Franca to fill in for André Dufresne who was not working that season. It turned out that we had both been to the same school in England, but not at the same time!
We toured Eastern Canada and mostly Eastern parts of the United States. There were quite a number of memorable events during the tours. First was in London, when the main drop curtain's ropes gave way, and we had to use the heavy safety curtain or blackouts instead of the usual curtain.
Next, in Hamilton, where we did The Nutcracker, when the electricians were setting up and checking the lights on the Christmas tree they blew all the fuses in the theatre. We had to delay the performance until we had managed to fix the lights - about 45 minutes! Then David Adams tore his achilles tendon, and was unable to dance for several months - Earl Kraul had to do double duty.
When we were in the Southern U.S., we came in at the beginning of the civil rights battle, and at Clemson University there was a difficult moment when we were told that the men who had moved in the scenery, props, lights and costume skips would not be working the show, but "nice white college" boys would. Our crew were outraged as they had been "training" the unloading crew to help during performance. I had to confront the "boss man" and say we would not perform unless we had the men who had been unloading for us work the performance!!! Miss Franca was very supportive. This was an exciting tour, we premiered the Canadian productions of Pineapple Poll, Death and the Maiden and The Mermaid.
In Trois Rivieres we performed Winter Night, which I thought very suitable, as the stage was built up on top of the ice in a hockey rink. The orchestra were luckily not on the ice, I was glad of my sheepskin boots. During the rehearsal period there were some rude words said by some hockey players, and the Maple Leafs were invited to come and join the company for class.
Needless to say, they came and after about 15 minutes of barre, were exhausted - no more rude words, and many of the dancers took to wearing hockey leg warmers, much needed in cold St Lawrence Hall. I loved my time with the company, and was sorry when I had to leave to get married, but was so glad Yves Cousineau came to my wedding in London."
- Mrs. Ursula Millet, nee Dicks, Alumni, Staff 1959-1960
"In the early 1970s, I was reluctantly dragged to see ballet for the first time. The performance was Rudolf Nureyev dancing in his own production of The Sleeping Beauty with Veronica Tennant, Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn. The overture began, the curtain went up and the dancing started. I was hooked. It changed my life."
- Mr. John Theo, Audience Member, 40+ years
"La Fille mal gardée was the first ballet, so beautifully danced by Frank Augustyn and Karen Kain, that I introduced to my then-boyfriend. Ballet was one of my favourite interests. He introduced me to baseball. We've been happily married for 30 years with 7 children and in that time he's been to many ballets... and I've never been to another baseball game!"
- Billie Ferrell Harrigan, Audience Member, 25+ years
"Early on in my career as the Wardrobe Assistant for The National Ballet of Canada I spent my days in the basement of old St Lawrence Hall on King Street doing fittings, mending and altering costumes and doing loads of laundry. It was not yet my job to work backstage. I vividly remember attending a performance of La Fille mal gardée in the 1980’s with Widow Simone being danced by Principal Character Artist Jacques Gorrissen. As the Widow reached into the drawer on stage left to get her hanky she used her hip to quickly shut the drawer, but her hem got caught in the drawer too. Unfortunately, the ruffled hem ripped away from the dress as she began to move to stage right. As soon as she felt the tug - half way across the stage - she turned, assessed the situation and quickly retraced her steps, bundling the torn ruffle hem. When she got back to the drawer she opened it, easily tore off the ruffle from the dress, threw it in the drawer and again closed it with her hip… Ta da!!
All I could think was, “Well, I guess I know what I’m mending tomorrow!”"
- Ms. Barbara de Kat, Wardrobe Coordinator, 1985 to present
"When I used to play the harp in the National Ballet Orchestra I was able to watch part of the show from the orchestra pit. The final performances of Celia Franca's Nutcracker were always hilarious, in particular the improvised mayhem during the battle scene. I don't know whether the audience was aware that the Three Blind Mice (complete with dark glasses and canes), and the inept Laurel-and-Hardy Stretcher Bearers for the cookie were not part of the usual choreography. I was always captivated by the humour of this production. The Mouse King was killed by being scared to death by a stuffed cat. After the scene with the fantastic dancing dolls, (carried off, stiff as boards), two gentlemen did the "After you, Alphonse" routine until one finally had to get off the stage. I have not seen a Nutcracker since that I love as much as this one."
- Mrs. Elizabeth Volpé Bligh, Alumni, Orchestra Member 1976-1982
"Wow... Where to start... This won't be a very long memory however it will be an everlasting one. I was very lucky to see one of the last shows of The Nutcracker on New Year’s Eve. I have always loved to watch dancing however I had never made it to the ballet. Macho male ego I guess. Boy have I ever been an idiot to adopt that attitude. I loved every minute of The Nutcracker. Whenever my girlfriend looked at me I was either on the edge of my seat or grinning from ear to ear. Catherine was grinning too watching the male dancers - talk about fitness at a new level! Maybe I should cut back on some of the chicken wings I eat. I loved the ballet so much that I raced home and quickly became a fan of The National Ballet of Canada on Facebook. I was actually quite happily surprised that the National Ballet liked the comment I posted about attending my first ballet. By the way, the countdown is on for the opening of La Fille mal gardée on the 29th of February to hurry up and get here.
Ladies and gentlemen of the National Ballet - please keep up the beautiful work. Ms. Kain - thank you for making it such an amazing experience.
Maybe my first ballet memory isn't so short after all."
- Kristopher Urech, Audience Member
"Back in the 80's, my brother, who was undergoing cancer treatment, and I were able to be in The Nutcracker as Stretcher Bearers. We got to do a little performance on stage and then pick up and carry off a stretcher. I loved it very much."
- Ms. Elisabeth Burrow, Audience Member & Daughter of a Donor
"It was December 1998, my husband and I were new in Canada and were expecting our second child. My mother was visiting from overseas and taking her to see The Nutcracker would be a fantastic opportunity for bonding. When I was little she would take my sister and I to the beautiful ballets of Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro. It was our first time watching a ballet performance in our new country and The Nutcracker was unforgettable. I was very pregnant and while snow flakes, soldiers and flowers danced I could feel my baby's movements... dancing in my belly!!
Some years have passed since this magical performance and The Nutcracker has become our family tradition. My little baby has grown into a lovely dancer and has ever since been captivated by The National Ballet of Canada's Nutcracker. She was a little mice jumping out of the bed, one lovely lamb and now looks forward to battling rats in the battle scene. Thanks to The National Ballet of Canada for memorable perfomances and for keeping us all a loyal audience!"
- Mrs. Claudia Baptista, Audience Member
My favourite memories of the National Ballet always seem to involve a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Like seeing Veronica Tennant dancer her last Romeo and Juliet. Or seeing Ormsby Wilkins salute Karen Kain’s last Swan Lake by presenting her with his baton at the end of the performance. Or seeing Rex Harrington overcome with emotion at the very end of his last performance of The Four Seasons…
- Ms. Donnalu Macdonald, Audience Member, 30+ years
"I have always loved art and culture. Where I am from, there isn't much to be found. When I wanted to see Cinderella, I asked some of my good friends to come with me. What started out as a girls day is slowly becoming tradition. We are going to see The Nutcracker next and look forward to performances coming next year."
- Katherine, Audience Member
"As the Wardrobe Coordinator for the National Ballet I spend most of each performance wandering around in the dark backstage waiting for things to go wrong. I am armed with a plethora of safety pins, a handy pair of sharp scissors, a flashlight and several already threaded sewing needles. I clearly remember several vivid moments of several ballets, and not necessarily because of the dancing! In the early days of The Merry Widow there was a very memorable wardrobe moment. There is a very romantic Pas de Deux danced by Valencienne and her beaux Camille (performed for us that night by Caroline Richardson and Peter Ottmann) danced out in the garden by the gazebo. On this particular Sunday matinee, Valencienne's lace hem got caught on the row of military buttons on Camille's uniform jacket. Quick on his feet, Peter tried to rip off the lace hem to detach himself from Caroline, but this just led to more lace coming off the hem because the lace was very strong. As they danced more and more lace unravelled from the dress and it started to look like festive bunting draped all over Caroline's legs as she arabesqued. Both Peter and Caroline must have been completely distracted trying to figure out how to deal with yards of lace entwining them as they danced but it never showed. I, in the meantime was watching from the wings. I knew I had my scissors handy but was not about to make my National Ballet stage debut to go to them and help cut the lace off. As I watched more lace unravel I sent someone to get my larger scissors, in case they decided to come to the wings for my assistance. But no, they kept dancing. They finished the Pas de Deux as if nothing had happened, Peter bent down and gathered up an armful of lace, they bowed for a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the entire audience and slipped away into the gazebo to continue their secret rendezvous.
The next day we cut all the lace off all the Valencienne dresses.
I still meet people who tell me they were there for the show with all the lace. My Mom was in the audience and will tell you what she saw and Peter Ottmann tells the story wonderfully from a whole different perspective."
- Ms. Barbara de Kat, Wardrobe Coordinator, 1985 to present
"I have been dancing ever since I was 4 years old, and have always enjoyed the music and magic that comes along with the ballet. Since my birthday is in the month of December, starting on my about 6th birthday, my grandma would take me and my sister to see The Nutcracker every year. She would have us get all dressed up to go to the theatre, and we would spend the afternoon there where I was always in awe by the technique, passion, and magic of the dancers. Over the past few years I have grown busier with school, and I do see my grandmother still, but not as much as I used to. However, I will never forget those magical birthdays spent with my grandmother at the theatre which inspires me to work harder to achieve the same magic onstage that I first saw with every dancer from The Sugar Plum Fairy, down to the little mice and lambs."
- Maya, Audience Member
"I was born in Romania where as a child, I always wanted to be a ballet dancer. When auditioning, I was told I had flat feet and felt totally crushed, yet I found other ways to enjoy ballet. As time moved on, I went into engineering and kept in touch with music and ballet finding out that Principal Artistic Coach Magdalena Popa was also Romanian. As I went through life I encountered some people who still believe that women have no brains for engineering! Yet I never let that deter me and always used the ballet as a beautiful, healing art form. This year, I retired and was decorated with an honour from our Prime Minister which is very important for me in this free and wonderful country. And guess where I am going for the holidays? To see The Nutcracker as after all I will always be a kid at heart when it comes to the ballet. The awe and amazement is still here. Happy Holidays!"
- Ms. Mariana Grinblat, Subscriber & Donor, 30+ years
"When I was 12 years old, I remember Rudolf Nureyev leaving the USSR and coming to Toronto. This huge ballet star was going to be dancing in the performance of The Nutcracker! This was such big news in the early 1970's. Being just 12 years old and just recently being exposed to classical music at school, I discovered Tchaikovsky and this magical and beautiful suite of music and I became obsessed with the music and everything involved with The Nutcracker. My own family could not afford to give me ballet lessons or for me to attend any of the performances throughout the years. As a young adult, I took beginner ballet and enjoyed so much the experience. Throughout the decades I married and had two children and never got the chance to see a performance of The Nutcracker.
In January 2003, my beloved father passed away suddenly. I shared his love of music and could not listen to classical music because of the memories that would come flooding back. In December of 2003 my loving husband gave me the greatest gift I could ever have. He ordered 2 tickets for my daughter and I to attend the National Ballet's The Nutcracker! I was in disbelief and shock! I was 44 years old and had wished and wanted so badly to attend a performance for so many years. The night before the Sunday matinee, I could not sleep because I was so excited. It was as if I were a young child again. When we walked into the lobby we could not believe the beauty of the theatre, and the souvenirs - I treated myself to a pair of pointe shoes worn by Heather Ogden and a souvenir programme. Imagine my delight when Heather Ogden in full costume as The Sugar Plum Fairy was in the lobby signing autographs. I gave the pair of pointe shoes that I had bought to her to sign! I was in complete awe at the beauty of this moment! When we entered the theatre, we walked down and down and I asked my daughter if she knew where we were going to be seated. She had no idea. I said as we got closer to the stage that there must be some mistake. When we got to the seventh row from the stage, direct center, our tickets matched the seat numbers and I couldn't move for sheer shock. My daughter had to remind me to sit down. The music started and the familiar Tchaikovsky score filled my mind and soul. I started to become so overwhelmed and tears flowed freely. My dream after so many decades had become a reality. This beautiful and most special time I will carry with me always for it meant so much to me. The autographed Ogden slippers sit in my living room for all to admire and to remind me of seeing that National Ballet performance."
- Mrs. Dana Davidson, Audience Member
"I grew up north of Toronto, and started taking ballet classes around the age of 9. When I was 12 years old, I learned that the National Ballet had student subscription prices, and I decided to subscribe. I started with a four-ballet package, and attended the matinee performances on my own. Perhaps I was the youngest independent subscriber in the National Ballet's history... who knows? I remember also attending the Ballet Chats program before some of the matinee performances where I met Veronica Tennant, Thomas Shramek and Lorna Geddes. I loved being a subscriber and seeing so much of the repertory. I saw performances with all the ballerinas of the early 1980's: Karen Kain, Veronica Tennant, Nadia Potts, Vanessa Harwood and many more. A couple of years later, a friend subscribed with me. We continued to subscribe until we both moved away for university. And guess what I studied at university: Dance History! I achieved a BA in Dance from the University of Waterloo. Ballet has been a huge part of my life, and I feel that being a subscriber at such a young age set me out on the path I followed. I now live in the Ottawa area, where I am an elementary school teacher, and I love to teach the dance strand of the Ontario curriculum to my students. And, my two young daughters are now part of a pre-professional ballet program here in Ottawa. We take every opportunity we can to see and enjoy ballet performances. The National Ballet of Canada has been a huge part of my life, and I hope to continue to foster a love of ballet with my daughters."
- Mrs. Karen Brunner-Gilmore, Audience Member, 25+ years
"Back in the days when the National Ballet performed at the Ontario Place Forum, there was a performance of Swan Lake featuring Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn who had recently returned from winning medals in the Soviet Union. In the scene in which the Prince gestures towards the sky to indicate that he sees the swans, a flock of geese flew by in formation, much to the amusement of the audience! Their timing was impeccable!!"
- Jacky Finch, Subscriber & Donor, 30+ years
"I have been an audience member for 60 years. I have seen the ballet at Eaton Auditorium, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the O'Keefe Centre and now the the most beautiful opera house the Four Seasons for the Performing Arts. I remember seeing Celia Franca dance in Giselle in the mad scene when she undid her hair - it was like she covered the stage with her hair. It was so dramatic. I remember seeing David Adams and Lois Smith, with Lois standing next to David on pointe doing her pirourettes barely touching him. I was there at the O'Keefe Centre on the night that Mikhail Baryshnikov defected. He did not come out to bow after his thrilling performance. The National Ballet has been a big part of my life. I danced at Mildred Wickson's studio with Carol Chadwick teaching both myself and my daughters. My love of dance has been passed on to my granddaughters who are now both modern dancers and graduates from the Simon Fraser dance program in Vancouver."
- Ms. Vivian Rosenberg, Subscriber & Donor, 60+ years
"Celia Franca, the consummate professional, adapted intelligently to whatever sized stage we were on-whether in opera house, high school auditorium, or hockey arena - stages varied hugely in size and surface, wing space and crossover space. While we usually had a warm-up class onstage before the show, taught by Celia, sometimes the scenery trucks had arrived late and the stage wasn’t ready for use. Celia then taught us how to warm up in the front of the house, holding on to the plush back of a seat for a barre - often on a sloping floor - and doing our pliés and grands battements there. If the stage became clear, we would continue our class onstage. She never missed a warm-up, and we learned to follow suit, although it was not always easy after a whole day on the bus. We also knew that she would notice if we didn’t. She didn’t miss anything."
- Mrs. Jocelyn (Terell) Allen, Alumni, Dancer 1956-1964
“I joined The National Ballet of Canada Orchestra in September 1980 on trombone. My first performance with the company was in Montreal on the 1980 fall tour. I have been to many places in the world that I wouldn't have gotten to if it were not for the ballet tours - Newfoundland to British Columbia, Germany four times, Italy, Luxembourg, and the United States. I even went through Checkpoint Charlie before the Berlin Wall came down. My 31 years with the company have been a terrific experience. I have performed The Nutcracker 642 times with the National Ballet. Fortunately it is terrific music.”
- David Archer, Orchestra Member, 1980 to present
“At the age of 6, my parents took me to the first performance of The National Ballet of Canada at Eaton Auditorium on November 12, 1951. My most vivid memories are that the chair I was sitting on was cold and my feet didn't touch the floor. The music was played on the piano by George Crum, who was later to become the Music Director and Conductor of the National Ballet Orchestra. I was totally entranced by the dancers in Les Sylphides and vowed that I too would dance it someday (and I did so in 1966, at the Banff School of Fine Arts.) Lois Smith, David Adams, Lilian Jarvis and Celia Franca all danced into my heart and there was no turning back. I started ballet lessons the next month and have continued to do so as well as perform and teach. Now, at the age of 66, I am in the adult ballet program at Canada's National Ballet School and live every moment to the fullest. Ballet is the love of my life thanks to the dancers I saw that night. My ultimate thrill was to finally meet Celia Franca a few years ago back at Eaton Auditorium, now the Carlu Theatre, at the release of the film Celia Franca: Tour de Force documenting her story of forming the company. It was my only chance to thank her for her inspiration and how she had influenced my life. It is still totally inspiring to watch the young dancers in performance today.”
- Mrs. Linda Willis, Audience Member, 60+ years
"Here's a little anecdote from my four years with the National Ballet. As I recall, it was 1956, my second season with the company, and our U.S. Tour was coming to an end. We were performing one dreary night in Buffalo, with a scattering of filled seats in the audience, and I was performing the role of Dr. Coppélius in Coppélia. At a crucial moment, I open a curtain slightly upstage to check on Coppélia (danced then by former Artistic Director Celia Franca) sitting in a chair. To my astonishment I see not Celia, but Stage Manager David Haber resplendent in Coppélia's costume, his hairy legs protruding below the dress! Needless to say, I quickly closed the curtain, and the next time I opened it to my relief, the real Coppélia was sitting in the chair. I couldn't help noticing the dancers in the wings trying to stifle their giggles... and I desperately made the same effort on stage!"
- Marcel Chojnacki, Alumni, Dancer 1955-1959
"Pour son 60e anniversaire, le Ballet National du Canada peut s'enorgueillir d'avoir suscité un grand danseur de carrière internationale, Guillaume Côté. Formé à l'Ecole Nationale de Ballet, il a choisi de poursuivre sa carrière a Toronto tout en faisant rayonner la réputation du Ballet National dans les plus grandes villes - New York, Londres, Moscou, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Milan, Tokyo, Victoria Johannesbourg - et encore avec les plus prestigieuses compagnies et ballerines du monde de la danse - Le Royal Ballet, Le New York City Ballet, L'American Ballet Theatre, La Compagnie de Ballet de la Scala, L'English Ballet - avec des critiques des plus élogieuses. Tout en poursuivant une carrière remarquable, il enrichit ce milieu de la danse classique de ses créations artistiques en musique pour la danse et en chorégraphies, se méritant des prix prestigieux. Il est même le producteur d'un ballet complet présenté à Florence et au Centre National des Arts d'Ottawa (composition de musique, chorégraphies, mise en scène, répétitions, collaboration aux décors, costumes, éclairage...) avec deux compagnies de danse, l'une classique, l'autre moderne. Il continue de contribuer au rayonnement du Ballet National du Canada et au monde de la danse par ses musiques et ses chorégraphies pour diverses compagnies et projets artistiques."
- Germaine, Audience Member & Donor
"I remember attending the National Ballet's Swan Lake when I was in 3rd grade and Karen Kain was there. I remember meeting her was absolutely magical and she really inspired me to become the dancer I am today!"
- Nika Amft, Audience Member
"When I was 11, in the 1970s, I saw an ad for the ballet. I couldn't decide between The Sleeping Beauty and Coppélia, so my mom said we could get tickets for both but "if you don't like the first ballet you still have to go for the second, sit there and not complain!" First up was Veronica Tennant and Peter Schaufuss in The Sleeping Beauty. I loved it and it ignited a lifelong passion for ballet. I happily went back for Coppélia a week or so later, this time seeing Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn. If that experience wasn't exciting enough I got to meet Veronica Tennant at intermission when she was signing copies of her book On Stage, Please."
- Carolyn Houghton, Audience Member, 30+ years
"In grade 4, I saw The Nutcracker with my class on a school trip. I'll never forget the beautiful dancers and music. I fell in love with ballet and have been a fan ever since."
- Ioana Radulescu, Audience Member
"I turned 16 years old in October 2011 and realized that this year would be the 13th consecutive year that my Mother and I would celebrate Christmas by coming to see the National Ballet's performance of "The Best Nutcracker on the Planet!" Although I have seen many other incredible ballets performed by the company, it's The Nutcracker that's closest to my heart. I've seen it danced at both the Hummingbird Centre and the fabulous Four Seasons Centre, and haven't missed a year (which is quite impressive, since we haven't lived in the Toronto area since I was 6!) Somehow, every December we make it back to Toronto, and our Christmas gift to one another is sitting side by side, waiting for the orchestra to begin. No matter what the weather or what has happened up until that point in the month, for me and my Mom Christmas officially begins when the orchestra strikes up the overture and Peter comes dancing and sweeping across the stage. Thank you for this memory and family tradition. It is irreplaceable for us, and has brought us great joy for many, many years!"
- Miss Katherine Leach-Russo, Audience Member, Fan and Junior Researcher
"My favourite childhood memories with my granny evolved around The National Ballet of Canada. Growing up in Barrie, we would trek up highway 400 for a fun day out to watch the both beautiful and fascinating performances. Meeting Karen Kain after watching her flawless performance of some of Swan Lake during a mixed program at Ontario Place was an unforgettable experience for me. I continue to be amazed by the talent and beauty of the dancers each year I return to watch more new and exciting performances, and I look forward to introducing future generations to ballet culture."
- Miss Robyn McArthur, Audience Member, 20+ years
"My mother took me to see The Nutcracker at the O'Keefe Centre when I was a little girl. This was about 45 years ago. It was the first ballet I'd ever seen, and I was enchanted by the music, The Sugar Plum Fairy, and especially the Christmas tree that grew to fill the stage. After the O'Keefe Centre became the Hummingbird Centre, I took my son to his first ballet, The Nutcracker of course! As the orchestra played the opening strains of the overture, tears streamed down my face. I was struck by how quickly time passed, but also by the profound joy I felt, now that I was able to pass on to my son the gift my mother had given to me. This Christmas, I will take my mother to The Nutcracker at Four Seasons Centre. She has not seen the ballet since my childhood visit. I know my tears will flow again, for the passage of time and the constancy of a treasured gift."
- Ms. Liz Warman, Audience Member, 40+ years
"My Memory: The first time I went to the ballet - I did not know I would love watching a performance so much. If I could, I would see a ballet everyday!"
- Mr. Terry Wong, Audience Member
"My fondest memory is of my first time watching The Sleeping Beauty. The whole experience was so moving I was actually crying. The costumes, performances and sets were so beautiful. I look forward to each and every ballet I can attend. Thank you for some great memories."
- Mrs. Lucy Valente, Audience Member, 25+ years
"It was about 1959, during Celia Franca's final performance of Giselle. It was also my last performance as I, a member of the Corps de Ballet, was leaving the company. The memory of tears streaming down my - and Miss Franca's - face is vivid all of these decades later. Along with the emotion at that time, how blessed I have always felt, to have shared that amazing experience with such an ICON of the Canadian ballet world."
- Mrs. Gloria Hutchinson, nee Bonnell, Alumni, Dancer 1956-1959
"My Memory: Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn's return to Toronto after a wonderful competition in Europe to perform superbly in the Bluebird Pas de Deux. I recall the thrill of my partner and I watching their exhilarating, powerful performance."
- Mr. Peter Savage, Audience Member, 30+ years
"The greatest wave of emotion I can recall at any National Ballet performance came with Veronica Tennant's farewell appearance in Romeo and Juliet. The cheering nearly brought down the roof of the Hummingbird Centre as the flower bouquets piled up steadily around her on the stage. I especially remember one bouquet that came flying like a rocket from somewhere in the audience and landed right at her feet just as she was taking her umpteenth curtsey. What an amazing display of love from audience to artist!"
- Ken Stephen, Subscriber & Donor, 25+ years
"I met Ms. Franca when were both living in Ottawa. We would go out for lunch together to tell tales of distant days. Being a third generation person, I was much less connected than my grandfather Mr. R. A. Laidlaw or my father Dr. R. G. N. Laidlaw. This was no barrier to the affection Celia had for my family and I was the welcoming beneficiary of her ever elegant narrative of crucial events. My reward was to attend as her guest the inaugral festivites of the centre in her name."
- Mr. Jamie Laidlaw
"My Memory: Sharing the joy of the ballet with my daughter Amy. The ballet has become our true love of the arts. Our favorite production so far has been Swan Lake. I am looking forward to the new Romeo and Juliet and am coming to the performance on November 18th, this time with a friend. I have to travel from my new home in Elliot Lake, Ontario and wouldn't miss it for the world. Thank you once again for your performances - they have become a regular part of my life."
- Maureen Cameron, Audience Member
"I remember a special performance that I was in while I was in the Corps de Ballet. We were on a US tour and Rudolf Nureyev was our Guest Artist. We were performing Coppélia in Florida. Nureyev was dancing the lead role and he had just finished his first act solo. All of the corps were placed in very specific positions on stage during and after Nureyev's solo. When he was finished he turned his back to the audience and started walking towards me. All of a sudden he told me to get up off the seat where I was posed so he could sit down. For a split second I didn't know what to do because I had been told where I was supposed to be positioned on stage and was afraid to move. But then I came to my senses and figured that if Nureyev was telling me to get up I better listen. So, I got off my seat and he sat down and then put me on his lap. Boy was I excited. I will never forget getting a chance to sit on the lap of one of the most famous dancers in history."
- Miss Donna Rubin, Alumni, Dancer 1984-1988
"My Memory: I was cast in the ballet Kettentanz. I was a Corps de Ballet member and I had not danced anything in a solo role yet. I was injured and very nervous on the night of my first performance. After the performance, Karen Kain came backstage and gave me the nicest pep talk."
- Ms. Kathleen E. Trick, Alumni, Dancer 1972-1975
"My fondest memory is being part of The Nutcracker and Cinderella productions in 1969 and 1970. I was studying at the National Ballet School and was chosen to play the Naughty Girl in The Nutcracker and had several parts in Cinderella. I will remember this experience forever. I love The National Ballet of Canada and I am now a volunteer."
- Ms. Sylvie Allard, Audience Member, Volunteer Committee Member & Volunteer, 30+ years
"My daughter Madeleine seemed to be born with a passion for dance. When she was 3 she was compelled to dance - she simply got up and started to dance as the credits were running for the movie Fly Away Home. She had never seen a ballet at that point, yet she jeted and did pirouettes in time to the soundtrack of the film with great intensity. She has been dancing ever since. My husband and I were able to take her to her first ballet, The Nutcracker, when she was 4. It was financially difficult for us but worth every cent in happiness. She sat way up in Ring 5 mesmerized by it all. She stood through the entire performance so that she could have a better view. She did not complain once about being uncomfortable. I just remember the extreme joy on her face as she took it all in - the music, the costumes, the gracefulness of the dancers. I think I may have spent more time watching her than the ballet itself. We have been coming back ever since. Our most recent ballet was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. She said she enjoyed it more than a double chocolate ice cream cone - that is high praise from a 5 year old and the reason why we make it a financial priority in our lives to bring the arts to our little girl's life. Thank you to all the dedicated artists of The National Ballet of Canada who have the difficult task of bringing the beautiful art that is ballet to life."
- Cristine Ramos, Audience Member
"I believe it was 1964 when I had a new German classmate. Her name was Lolla and her father, Jürgen Rose, had come to Canada to design the sets for the National Ballet production of The Nutcracker at the O'Keefe Center. Lolla was an only child, I was the oldest of five (and the only girl). Although I loved the ballet from books and TV, I never dreamed I would actually see a live performance. Lolla and her family celebrated a traditional German Christmas on the 24th of December. To celebrate the Canadian Christmas, Lolla was allowed to bring one friend to see The Nutcracker on December 26th. I was the lucky friend. I will never forget that beautiful performance! To add to this wonderful day, Lolla's father took us on stage to see the sets up close and then he made my Christmas even more magical. I met the dancers! They were as kind to a star struck young girl as they were talented and beautiful. I have never had the opportunity to return and unfortunately we moved the following spring. I will never forget that special day. Each year I watch the production on TV and I become that young girl again. You people in the world of dance create such beauty and I know in my heart that many young girls get to see magic when you perform. Thank you!"
- Mrs. Sheree Fordyce, Audience Member, 40+ years
"One of my favourite memories at the National Ballet is seeing Karen Kain perform Eliot Feld's Echo. I would like to see THAT again!"
- Edward Karek, Audience Member, 30+ years