The company was founded by Ludmilla CHIRIAEFF in 1958 as a troupe of 16 dancers. It evolved from Chiriaeff's earlier dance activities in Montréal, where she had settled after emigrating from Europe in 1952. Her first ballets were created for the acclaimed CBC French Network TV program L'Heure du concert. Her company, Les Ballets Chiriaeff, began giving live public performances in 1954, despite opposition from the conservative Catholic Church in Québec, whose priesthood viewed ballet as immoral. Chiriaeff had established her first school in 1952 and, in 1958, the Académie des grands ballets canadiens was established to prepare dancers for the emerging company. In 1970 this organization evolved into l'École supérieure de danse du Québec to provide professional training for advanced students. After relinquishing her position as artistic director of the company in 1974, Chiriaeff directed the schools until ill health forced her retirement in 1992.
Brian MACDONALD was artistic director of the company from 1974 to 1978. From 1978 to 1985 Les GBC was directed by a committee made up of ballet mistress Linda Stearns, répétiteur Daniel Jackson and director general Colin McIntyre. McIntyre left in 1984 and from 1985 to 1987 Jeanne RENAUD joined Linda Stearns as co-artistic director. Renaud left in December 1987 and Stearns remained as sole artistic director. McIntyre returned as director general from March 1988 to August 1992. The respected American dancer and teacher Lawrence Rhodes was artistic director from August 1989 until late 1999, when he was succeeded by the Macedonian-born dancer, teacher and director, Gradimir Pankov.
Since the arrival of Pankov as artistic director a new emphasis has been placed on full-length story ballets, such as Didy Veldman's Carmen (2000), Kim Brandstrup's commissioned work, The Queen of Spades (2001) and Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet (2004). By updating or treating familiar themes with a distinctly contemporary sensibility and modern staging technology, these ballets have helped Les GBC win new and younger audiences. Les Grands was the first Canadian company to perform the acclaimed work of Mats Ek of Sweden and has continued to perform the haunting works of Czechoslovakia's illustrious choreographer Jiri Kylian. Pankov's Les Grands Ballets stands out in its commitment to international contemporary choreographers Kim Brandstrup of Denmark, Ohad Naharin of Israel, Mauro Bigonzetti of Italy, and Nacho Duato of Spain. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007.
Author MICHAEL CRABB Revised: KATHERINE CORNELL
Links to Other Sites
Dance Collection Danse
The Dance Collection Danse website, Canada's national dance archives and publisher dedicated to the preservation of Canadian theatrical dance history. Check out their numerous online features, publications, and exhibits.
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal
This stylish website for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal features a current program dates, repertory and biographies of current dancers in the company.
Place des Arts
The website for Montréal's prestigious Place des Arts, home of the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Théâtre Maisonneuve, Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, the Studio-théâtre and the Cinquième salle.
Canadian Women in Theatre and Dance
This Library and Archives Canada site features biographies of prominent women in Canadian theatre and dance. Also offers teaching guides and reference sources.
An extensive multimedia website devoted to the rich and varied world of dance. Features biographies of prominent dance artists, video clips of interviews and dance performances, the "Virtual Dance Studio" where you can create original choreography on your computer, and much more. From ArtsAlive.ca, a National Arts Centre website.
A bilingual, searchable, Canada-wide performance database from Dance Media Group/Groupe Danse Média, publishers of "The Dance Current" magazine.
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens at 50
Scroll down to page 6 to see an illustrated history of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. From Dznce Collection Danse.
A Q&A with Les Grands Ballets’ Gradimir Pankov
Read an interview with artistic director Gradimir Pankov about what makes the widely-acclaimed Les Grands Ballets so unique in the world of contemporary ballet. From the Goethe Institut.