“The company has never looked more resplendent, more assured, or more ravishing... a triumph for the indefatigable prairie troupe, a jewel box of sumptuous dancing...at every moment, the energy and youth radiating from the stage is palpable.” - The Vancouver Sun
Versatility, technical excellence and a captivating style are the trademarks of Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, qualities that have garnered both critical and audience acclaim. These qualities keep the RWB in demand as it presents more than 70 performances every season.
Founded in 1939 by Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet holds the double distinction of being Canada's premier ballet company and the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America. In 1953, the Company received its royal title, the first granted under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1958, Arnold Spohr was appointed artistic director. Under his direction the Royal Winnipeg Ballet grew and developed to take its place among the world's internationally renowned companies. To further the Company's development, a professional school was created in 1970 under the direction of David Moroni. Today two-thirds of the Company's dancers are graduates of the School.
In 1988, Mr. Spohr turned his position over to Henny Jurriens, who had been a principal dancer with both the Dutch National Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Tragically, Jurriens and his wife lost their lives in an automobile accident on April 9, 1989. In 1990, during the Company’s 50th anniversary season, John Meehan was appointed artistic director. A former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and guest artist with The National Ballet of Canada and New York City Ballet, Meehan resigned in 1993 to return to his home in New York. From 1993 to 1995, William Whitener, a former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and Twyla Tharp Dance, served as artistic director.
On March 7, 1996, André Lewis was named artistic director of Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet. A native of Gatineau, Quebec, Mr. Lewis has maintained a thirty year association with the RWB. He joined the RWB School’s Professional Division in 1975, entered the company’s corps de ballet in 1979 and was promoted to soloist in 1982. He was asked to join the artistic staff in 1984 and was appointed associate artistic director in 1990. During his tenure as artistic director, Lewis has worked to revitalise the company’s repertoire, especially with the commissioning of new full-length ballets such as Dracula, Nutcracker, The Magic Flute, Peter Pan and Moulin Rouge – The Ballet.
The repertoire of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet embraces a wide array of dance styles, which includes classical story ballets and an intriguing collection of shorter dances. The RWB achieves a fine balance between the classical traditions of Europe and the boldness of contemporary ballet, which in turn has produced a unique style. Works to be found in the RWB repertoire include those of Sir Frederick Ashton, Oscar Araiz, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Jirí Kylián, Agnes de Mille, Vincente Nebrada, John Neumeier, Antony Tudor, Hans van Manen and Rudi van Dantzig. Among the Canadian choreographers who have worked with the Company are Brian Macdonald, Paddy Stone, Norbert Vesak, Jacques Lemay and Judith Marcuse. Mark Godden, former soloist with the RWB, continues to create numerous exciting and award-winning works for the company, having been the first resident choreographer in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s history from 1990 to 1994.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet first began to tour Canada in 1945; it completed its first American tour in 1954. Today, the Company spends 15 or more weeks a year on the road, performing in centres large and small. The RWB is compact in size, with 24 dancers, a production crew of seven and a semi-trailer that carries approximately 55,000 pounds of equipment. For full-length ballets, the RWB travels with two semi-trailers and an expanded company. The RWB has performed in the United States, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Japan, Asia, Mexico and in every province of Canada.
Throughout its history, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has been a dance leader, recording innumerable firsts. It developed the concept of the regional ballet festival in the 1940s. It was the first Western company to perform in Cuba after the revolution. It received Gold Medals at the International Ballet Festival in Paris in 1968 and that same year became the first Canadian company to tour Russia and Czechoslovakia.
The Company is also noted for artistic excellence. In 1980, Principal Dancers Evelyn Hart and David Peregrine won Bronze Medals at the World Festival Ballet Concours in Japan. That same year, at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, the Company earned a number of prizes - Hart received a Gold Medal for her performance, as well as the rarely-awarded Certificate for Exceptional Artistic Achievement; Peregrine won a Bronze Medal; Music Director Earl Stafford received a Gold Medal; and choreographer Norbert Vesak won the Gold Medal for Belong. In 1982, Arnold Spohr was awarded the coveted Annual Dance Magazine Award for outstanding contributions to the world of dance. In 1983 he was presented with the prestigious Diplôme d’Honneur by the Canadian Conference of the Arts. The following year he received the Dance in Canada Award.
A return visit to Bulgaria in 1990 resulted in further international accolades for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. At the 14th International Ballet Competition in Varna, Principal Dancer Laura Graham was awarded a Silver Medal in the senior women’s category. Her non-competing partner, Stephen Hyde, received a Certificate of Excellence; and Soloist Mark Godden was presented with a second prize for new choreography for Myth. At the 1991 Second International Ballet Competition in Helsinki, Finland, Soloist Suzanne Rubio took home third prize in the senior women’s division; Godden won again, sharing second prize for new choreography for his pas de deux La Princesse et le Soldat; and Company pianist Barbara Riske was awarded Best Pianist.
In 1986 the Royal Winnipeg Ballet began construction of a new Company home. This unique facility, which includes 10 dance studios (including a performance studio), physiotherapy room, administrative and production offices, box office, wardrobe department and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Professional and Recreational Divisions, was officially opened in January 1988.
On April 12, 2010, tragic news hit as former Artistic Director Arnold Spohr passed away, making international headlines. Mr. Spohr, dynamic and passionate, helped propel the RWB onto the international stage while at the helm of the Company.
The RWB’s 2011/12 Winnipeg season opened with the world premiere of Mark Godden’s Svengali. In December the Christmas classic Nutcracker was back to bring joy and warmth to the winter season. After more than a decade’s absence, the full-length masterpiece Giselle returns to the Centennial Concert Hall stage in March. A mixed-repertoire program entitled Pure Ballet closed the Winnipeg season, featuring Peter Quanz’s Luminous, Mauricio Wainrot’s Carmina Burana and The Doorway, a new work by Jorden Morris set to music by Leonard Cohen. Touring will saw the RWB travel across Canada and the United States with Svengali, Wonderland, Nutcracker and Moulin Rouge® - The Ballet.