RWB’S 80th ANNIVERSARY SEASON TREASURED DESPITE GLOBAL PANDEMIC
NATIONWIDE SHUTDOWNS ONLY HALF THE STORY OF BALLET’S PREVIOUS SEASON
WINNIPEG, MB - September 30th, 2020 – Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) held its Annual General Meeting today. Unlike previous AGMs, most participants today attended via the internet, respecting the need to ensure social distancing for the small number present in accordance with the pandemic requirements. The event focused on the momentum and successes enjoyed by the RWB in its 80th anniversary season prior to the economic shutdown brought about by the global pandemic. Participants also heard about what is in store for the ballet company and school.
RWB Board Chair Don Leitch and Artistic Director & CEO André Lewis reflected on the incredible 80th season, which was dedicated to the memory of Kathleen Richardson, a lifelong supporter of the RWB and the arts community in Manitoba.
“The 2019-20 season was the first full year under our renewed strategic plan which affirms the RWB as “The heart of dance in Canada and the world,” and our commitment to “teach, create and perform, enriching lives through the power of exceptional dance,” said Leitch. “With pride I can confidently say that the RWB has lived up to this standard throughout the 2019-20 season.”
For a ballet company which typically themes its season, the RWB’s 80th anniversary season was a time of reflection for the organization. Shows were selected with careful consideration of the RWB’s storied history, each representing different elements of the company’ creative endeavors over eight decades.
The season opened with the Canadian premiere of Greg Horsman’s La Bayadère, a collaborative effort between the RWB, Queensland Ballet, and West Australian Ballet. The season continued with James Kudelka’s Four Old Legs, featuring the return of Evelyn Hart, the most prestigious ballerina in the RWB’s long history. In December the company celebrated the 20th anniversary of its own Canadian version of Nutcracker, and in February performed Moulin Rouge®—The Ballet, another RWB original, which first debuted in Winnipeg in 2009. The season was to conclude with a special celebration of the RWB in 80 Years – A Retrospective. The show would have featured repertoire from the RWB’s most famous ballets, celebrating influential artistic directors of yore, the show was ultimately cancelled during the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring.
The RWB also commemorated a year filled with exciting touring opportunities, which began with Festival Internacional Cervantino, popularly known as El Cervantino, an annual arts festival held each fall in the city of Guanajuato, Mexico. The RWB was invited to represent ballet as part of the Canadian contingent at the festival, where they performed the Mexican premiere of Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation to rave reviews and deemed a highlight of festival. The RWB also performed Nutcracker and Moulin Rogue®—The Ballet at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. A three-stop tour of the United States in the spring was cancelled with the restrictions on international travel in the spring.
Under the provincial State of Emergency, the safety of dancers, students, parents, staff and patrons has been the highest priority for RWB. Operations were reimagined for a world of social distancing with the RWB residence temporarily shuttered and classes at the school moved online. Dancers, unable to rehearse together, collaborated to create online video offerings.
As the COVID pandemic took hold in March, the RWB’s season was cut short and remaining tours and final mainstage performance of the season were cancelled. As the RWB grappled with the emerging threat to public safety, both professional and recreational divisions in the school suspended in-studio classes and efforts ramped up to ensure international students could get home before travel bans were enforced.
“Although the anniversary year was beset with challenges owing to COVID-19, it also reflected the strengths of the company and its leadership,” said Lewis in his address. “The path we put ourselves on has continued moving the company into a better position than in years previous. We remain hopeful that when we can return to the stage the company with be stronger and nimbler than ever before.”
The RWB ended the 80th season with a small operating surplus despite dramatic drops in revenue through the cancellation of year end performances and tours. The RWB has posted surpluses in 15 of its last 19 seasons.
The RWB also offered an update on its upcoming season, noting that although there is no timeline for a return to the main stage at this point, the company continues to develop new avenues for content generation and will endeavor to deliver world-class ballet to its patrons in the weeks, months and years to come.