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Tutus at Eaton Auditorium

For the week of Monday November 12, 2007

On November 12, 1951, The National Ballet of Canada gave its first performance at the Eaton Auditorium in Toronto. Since then The National Ballet has made significant contributions to a rich dance tradition in Canada.

Although thousands of Canadian youth were taking ballet classes in the 1940s, there were almost no professional companies to which to aspire. The ambitions of amateur local companies were discouraged by lack of funding and inadequate training. In 1950, representatives from such companies invited English ballerina Celia Franca to establish a national, professional company in Canada. When she arrived, Franca, who was known for her high standards, was disappointed by the quality of Canadian dancers, but impressed with their enthusiasm. She decided to stay and accept the challenge.

Interior of Eaton Auditorium in 1945
Interior of Eaton Auditorium in 1945
© Courtesy of Sears Canada Inc.
Staging The National Ballet’s debut at the Eaton Auditorium was fitting since the T. Eaton Company had generously sponsored Franca and her emerging company. Eaton’s College Street store’s Art Deco style gave the venue an elegant atmosphere. The auditorium, foyer, and Round Room restaurant on the 7th floor were designed by French architect Jacques Carlu. The auditorium, which featured Art Deco characteristics such as vertical and horizontal bands and panels of backlit, translucent glass, was a popular performance space. Glenn Gould, for example, insisted on recording there because of the auditorium’s excellent acoustics.

Celia Franca and David Adams at the first performance by The National Ballet of Canada, November 1951
Celia Franca and David Adams at the first performance by The National Ballet of Canada, November 1951
© Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada Archives
Despite the beautiful space, the performance had its problems. The auditorium, not intended for dance, had overly strong lighting and an untheatrical atmosphere. The inexperience of the dancers and stage crew was also apparent. The projectionist, who had learned to use the spotlight at the dress rehearsal, was replaced at the last minute producing comic results. Still, the performance was a success. One critic proclaimed, “in this moment one could see most clearly the future of this company, the future and the promise.”

Since that 1951 performance, The National Ballet has grown to more than sixty dancers and has its own orchestra. It has toured in North America and Europe, and is considered one of the world’s top ballet companies. In 2006, the company moved from the Hummingbird Centre to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts – a new theatre designed specifically for opera and dance.

Eaton’s 7th Floor Auditorium and Round Room was closed in 1977 along with the rest of the Toronto store. The auditorium was restored and re-opened in 2003 as “The Carlu,” event venue and supper club. The Seventh Floor Eaton Auditorium and Round Room is a National Historic Site.

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