En Pointe 08 - May 23

May 23 2020 | Posted in Blog, En Pointe

Cancelled Ballet in the Park Still Stronger than Ever

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For the first time in more than 20 years, Ballet in the Park will not take place this summer. The hiatus, which was announced on Tuesday by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, is owing to COVID – 19 restrictions on large gatherings, and the RWB’s desire to ensure the safety of the members of its community. This is disheartening news for the thousands who planned to attend this year, and completely unprecedented in its 50-year history.

The free performance began life in 1972 as Dancing in the Park, when it was created as a way to give back to the community and provide greater access to the art of dance. Over the years, Ballet in the Park has grown into a multi-day event and solidified itself as the best way for families to see world-class dance performed under the big prairie sky.

Featuring RWB Company and School dancers coming together to perform in Assiniboine Park, Ballet in the Park has continued to reach more and more Manitobans each year. With last July’s performances smashing previously held attendance records, it’s safe to say that Ballet in the Park is more popular than ever, and fans of the event can rest assured that Ballet in the Park will return once it is safe to do so.

In contrast with the Ballet in the Park we know today, there was once a time when its future was not so bright. In fact, in 1993, it seemed that Ballet in the Park was finished, and if not for David Lucas and the other company dancers with the RWB at the time, it would have been.

David trained at the Canadian School of Ballet under Betty Farrally, the co-founder of the RWB, and later graduated from the National Ballet School and the RWB School. He joined the RWB Company in 1988, where he danced for 13 years until retiring in 2001. In the early 1990s, when the RWB was undergoing significant financial hardship and forced to end the dancers’ contracts after the mainstage season concluded, thereby obviating Ballet in the Park, David recalls being determined to save it.

“It was always an important event that we felt as dancers was something that should not be missed,” says David, who has since gone on to become Artistic Director for the Canadian School of Ballet Summer Program, found his own ballet company, and co-found a dance competition as well as a ballet competition. “It was important that we give back to the community.”

Determined that the show would go on, David and the other dancers decided to donate their time preparing for Ballet in the Park. They believed that the chance to bring dance to their beloved audience was too great to pass up and carried on with rehearsals as though nothing had changed. At the event, the dancers made an impassioned speech to the audience, informing them of the financial plight of the RWB and the dancers working for weeks without pay. Asking only for donations, a ballet slipper was passed around that those in attendance filled with enough money for the dancers to recoup their donated time. This incredible act of generosity was a sign that Winnipeggers loved Ballet in the Park as much as the dancers did and guaranteed that the event would return next year.

“After the event, a lot of parents came up to me and said they were happy it wasn’t cancelled,” recalls David. “They told me they wanted to bring their children to Ballet in the Park and how they looked forward to the event ever year.”

Today, 1993’s Ballet in the Park is remembered fondly. The efforts of the dancers made clear that the summer tradition which began in 1972 was important not just to the dancers, but to all those who were able to attend. Much of Ballet in the Park’s ongoing success is attributed to the efforts of David Lucas and the other dedicated dancers in the company that year, for if not for them, the event that Winnipeggers know and love today may not have continued at all.