Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program

Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program
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Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program

RBC Foundation

The Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program is a full-time, two-year, post-secondary training program for advanced-level classical ballet dancers who are making the transition from student to professional dancer.

Alumni of the Program enrolled at the University of Winnipeg can have their studio and course work recognized by the Faculty of Theatre and Film with up to 18 credit hours towards their degree.

The Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program has many advantages, the most important being the close, daily contact with the world-renowned Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company. Aspirants regularly attend Company class and are frequently cast in the Company’s full-length classical ballet productions, both in Winnipeg and on tour around the world. The Program also provides dancers with specially designed classes in ballet and pointe technique, modern, and classical variations, as well as the opportunity work with new and established choreographers and to create new work of their own. Additional classes may be offered in the following subjects: drama, character dance, and modern dance partnering. Aspirants are also supported in the preparation of audition photos, videos, applications, and other logistics, and are invited to take part in a variety of lectures on topics such as finances, stress, and anxiety management in collaboration with the Dancers’ Transition Resource Centre.

Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program Director

Vanessa Léonard
Ms. Léonard (nee Lawson) has been gracing the studios and stages of the Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet in some capacity since 1994. Ms. Léonard received her early training from the Edmonton School of Ballet and the RWB School Professional Division before being hired into the RWB Company in 1997, where she steadily climbed the ranks until her promotion to Principal for the 2005-2006 season. During a fifteen-year career, Ms. Léonard portrayed the lead female role in many well-known works; the first of such roles was in David Nixon’s Butterfly when Nixon picked Vanessa from the corps de ballet to perform the lead. Since retiring from the RWB Company in 2013, Ms. Léonard has applied her vast knowledge and expertise of the art form to her role as Company Ballet Master and instructor in the RWB Professional Division. She has also staged full length ballets for the RWB, Orlando Ballet and Louisville Ballet and is a sought-after guest teacher to companies and schools in Canada and internationally. In 2021, Ms. Léonard assumed the prestigious post of Director of the Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program.


Performance Opportunities

In the last few years, Aspirants have had an opportunity to perform with the RWB Company in Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadère, Serenade, The Wizard of Oz, and many other works.

The On the Edge Tour sends the Aspirants throughout Manitoba for one to two weeks in March to share their love of dance with audiences of all ages in schools, theatres, and community spaces.

On the Edge, the Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program’s annual showcase performance in June, highlights the incredible talent within the student body and provides local audiences with an opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow today in an intimate and sometimes interactive setting.

Aspirants also participate in a wide variety of local productions and performances throughout the year with organizations such as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Prairie Theatre Exchange. Dancers may also gain experience performing in various media productions, such as videos and films.

The Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program daily schedule changes throughout the year based on dancers’ involvement with the RWB Company, other projects, workshops, and visiting guest artists. To the left is a sample of a daily schedule that follows the RWB Company format.


For more information

Director, Anna McCowan-Johnson Aspirant Program Director

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