One Night Stands
By Reuben Tom Kee


Reuben Tom Kee
Trained under Lawrence Gradus, Reuben Tom Kee
danced with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, founded by Ludmilla Chiriaeff,
 and with
Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal,
under the direction of 
 Eva von Gencsy, former principal dancer with the
Royal Winnipeg Ballet

 


“Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet - 40 years of One Night Stands” documents the legendary rise of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company - the first Canadian company to be granted a ‘Royal’ title. This was no small feat, especially given the remoteness of the city, both geographically and culturally. Winnipeg was surrounded by farmland. Eminent dance critic Clive Barnes called The Royal Winnipeg Ballet ‘prairie freshness.’



The story is an inspired look at The Royal Winnipeg Ballet provided by Winnipeg director Jeff McKay
(Edgeland Films), and, surprisingly, one does not lose interest as the story progresses.  The statistics and historical facts, interspersed with striking dance images, keep the viewer riveted to the screen.

The origins of the company took roots in the 1930’s when two committed young ladies with vision, Gwyneth Lloyd (37) and Betty Farrally (23), emigrated from England to offer ballet classes in the foreboding City of Winnipeg. They became the founders of the first professional ballet company in Canada.  To capture the public’s attention, they offered free ballet classes, much to the chagrin and annoyance of existing dance schools.  As they put it, “…if we offered a pound of butter with every class, it has nothing to do with anybody else ....” So, surprisingly, the ‘tough’ Winnipeg public supported the new dance medium.


Betty Farrally

In 1939, the company was bestowed a great honor to perform in front of the newly crowned King George and Queen Elizabeth of England.  And they were once again summoned in 1951 to perform before royalty:  Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip.  This led to the granting of the ‘Royal’ title which was one of the first appellations bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II once she was crowned.


Gwyneth Lloyd


The film opens with a short clip of a rarely seen majestic, gold medal performance of Norbert Vesak’s “Belong” featuring dancers Evelyn Hart and David Peregrine. They both came on board in a period when the company was in dire straits and much divided because of ‘warring’ factions between co-artistic directors, including company star dancers Salvatore Aiello, Hilary Cartwright and David Moroni.  That was in 1979, and by far one of the most important pivotal turning points in the history of the company.



David Peregrine


Its vitality and ‘prairie freshness’ amongst the most venerated dance companies was demonstrated during the 1980 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. Indeed, both Hart and Peregrine ‘took on the world’ (albeit of dance!).

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet” features many of the alumni of the multi-cultural company: Lillian Lewis, Jean McKenzie, Eva von Gencsy (Hungary), Sheila McKinnon, David Shields, Jean Stoneham (Edinburgh), Arnold Spohr (Saskatchewan), Ted Patterson, David Moroni (Ottawa), and John Kaminski.  Many of these dancers were part of that first ‘royal command’ performance.

Much of the modern success of the company was due to the artistic director who took over once the original founders were, unfortunately, ‘forced out’.  That director was Arnold Spohr, basketball player turned ballet dancer.   He was often referred to as ‘a complete madman’ and ‘an absolute fiend’ because of his uncompromising passion for perfection.  Together, with a young Canadian choreographer, Brian Macdonald, they set out to create ‘a Canadian collection’ as opposed to hiring international choreographers.   Macdonald created over 13 ballets - some of the most exciting in the world. Spohr propelled the company to a place among the best in the world.


Photo by Peter Garick
 Artistic Director Arnold Spohr

The company was ‘discovered’ by the legendary Ted Shawn who billed The Royal Canadian Ballet as the ‘glittering jewel’ of the 1964 run of his famous Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  The company’s success ultimately led the legendary impresario Sol Hurok. He placed them amongst his stable of great companies, such as Russia’s Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets, Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet, and England’s Royal Ballet.  The Royal wowed audiences from Flin Flon to Moscow.



Moscow, Russia
1968

The Royal Canadian Ballet has visited over 2,000 towns and travelled some two million miles.



Kit Copping in Jamaica
1963


It’s recognized as one of the most respected dance companies in the world, with accolades from Moscow to London to New York, as well as a Paris Gold Medal.


Bus Tour 1959

YouTube
 

Raise the Barre Films
Executive Producers Merit Jensen Carr and Patti Ross Milne


Film Fanatics


Lois Siegel's Home Page