This Week in History
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's First Steps
For the week of Monday June 9, 2014
On June 11, 1940, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet staged its first full-scale show at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre. The performance was such a success that one critic predicted the company would “become a pinnacle of artistic achievement.” This statement proved prophetic, as the ballet troupe now celebrates its 75th anniversary.
In the late 1940s, the Winnipeg Ballet began touring extensively to establish its reputation and, in 1949, was incorporated as a non-profit organization with a board of directors and salaried performers. It was the first professional ballet company in Canada and the first Canadian ballet company to tour America and the Soviet Union. Today it is the second-oldest company in North America; only the San Francisco Ballet is older.
The Ballet was granted the title Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) in 1953, but in the following year its buildings burned down and the RWB suffered financial difficulties. After years of upheaval, former principal dancer and choreographer Arnold Spohr became artistic director in 1958. Over the next three decades he solidified the RWB’s international reputation as a company with a distinct Canadian identity and a unique dance style that New York Times critic Clive Barnes called “prairie freshness.”
The company established an integrated dance school in 1970, producing performers for both the RWB and many international companies. One of the school’s most distinguished graduates is the famous ballerina Evelyn Hart. The RWB continues to tour nationally and internationally, showcasing traditional and contemporary works that excite audiences as much as they did in 1940.
The Pantages Playhouse Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the RWB held its first performance, is a national historic site.
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