National Ballet of Canada

National Ballet of Canada
General information
Name National Ballet of Canada
Year founded 1951
Founders Celia Franca
Principal venue Four Seasons Centre
Artistic staff
Artistic Director
  • Barry Hughson, (Executive Director)
  • Karen Kain (Artistic Director)
Music Director David Briskin
Associated schools The National Ballet School of Canada
  • Principal Dancer
  • Principal Character Artist
  • First Soloist
  • Second Soloist
  • Corps de Ballet
  • Apprentice
The National Ballet of Canada performing Coppélia in 1952.

The National Ballet of Canada is Canada's largest ballet troupe. It was founded by Celia Franca in 1951 and is based in Toronto, Ontario. Based upon the unity of Canadian trained dancers in the tradition and style of England's Royal Ballet, The National is regarded as the premier classical ballet company in Canada.

Creation of The National Ballet of Canada

In 1951, the two major ballet companies in Canada were the Royal Winnipeg Ballet headed by Gweneth Lloyd and the Volkoff Canadian Ballet founded by Boris Volkoff and based in Toronto. Although both of these companies were well renowned, they were biased in their selection of dancers and often held auditions in their founding cities. With a desire to create an unbiased Canadian ballet troupe, and inspired by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, a group of ballet enthusiasts set out to create the National Ballet of Canada.[1] Both Lloyd and Volkoff were interested in being the first artistic director of the company, but the organisers agreed that the only way to create a truly unbiased ballet company was to hire an outsider named Celia Franca as artistic director.[2]

Franca had been to Canada twice in her life, and would not have the same biases a Canadian would in selecting dancers for the company. Furthermore, she had many connections within the dance community and be able to expand the company’s influence on the international stage. However, she was not interested in heading this new company. She had refused similar invitations in Australia and South Africa and liked living in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, when she came to Canada in 1951, she was begged by the founders to accept their invitation. Franca accepted the job and became the first artistic director, while Volkoff would be the Resident Choreographer and Lloyd would be the Artistic Consultant and Choreographer. [2] Conductor George Crum would take on the role of conductor, as well as musical director.

In August 1951 what was then The National Ballet Guild of Canada launched its first cross-country audition tour. By the end of the month, the ballet troupe had chosen 29 dancers [3] and was rehearsing for their first performance in the St. Lawrence Hall. It was during these rehearsals that major decisions for the future of the ballet company happened. For example, Franca chose to perform classic ballets, as she believed this would allow the dancers to be properly judged by the international dance community.[1]

The National Ballet Guild of Canada's first performance was in the Eaton Auditorium on November 12, 1951.[4] The program included Les Sylphides and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.[4]


In 1964 the National adopted the 3200-seat O'Keefe Centre (now known as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) in Toronto as its home venue. The company moved in 2006 to new facilities at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

In 1976 Alexander Grant, former Principal Dancer with London's Royal Ballet and Artistic Director of Ballet for All, became the Artistic Director of The National. Under his leadership, The National Ballet added many works by Frederick Ashton to its repertoire. The National has historically been viewed by many as very similar in training, technique, and style to The Royal Ballet of England.

The National Ballet of Canada was the first Canadian company to perform at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London in 1979.

In 1989 Reid Anderson became the artistic director. He sustained the company though a difficult economic recession[1] by choreographing traditional ballet pieces while also commissioning Canadian and international choreographers to create contemporary piece.[5] In 1995 he left the company citing a frustration of the continued funding cuts from the government.[1][6]

In 2011, the company premiered a new version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet by Alexei Ratmansky.

The National Ballet School of Canada

The National Ballet School was founded in 1959 by Celia Franca and was directed for many years by co-founder Betty Oliphant.[7] The primary goal of the school is to train dancers for the National Ballet of Canada and also for companies across Canada and around the world. Graduates of the School include Frank Augustyn, Neve Campbell, Anne Ditchburn, Rex Harrington, Karen Kain (current Artistic Director of the Company),[8] James Kudelka (former Artistic Director of the Company), Veronica Tennant, Martine Lamy, John Alleyne, Emmanuel Sandhu, and Mavis Staines (Artistic Director and Co-CEO of the School).

International Acclaim

Rudolf Nureyev danced with the company in 1965 and returned in 1972 to stage his version of The Sleeping Beauty. His work is credited to raising the standards of the company.[1] He was responsible for bringing the Company to Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House in New York City where he showcased the company. The Ballet met with rave reviews and this was a pivotal point in receiving recognition internationally.[9] It was at this time that the careers of Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn, two members of NBC, took off. Kain and Augustyn received the prize for best pas de deux at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1973.[10] The following year, in 1974, while on a tour in Canada, Mikhail Baryshnikov defected and requested political asylum in Toronto and joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.[11] His first televised performance after coming out of temporary seclusion in Canada was with the National Ballet of Canada in a version of La Sylphide.[12]


Principal Dancers

Principal Character Artists

  • Lorna Geddes
  • Stephanie Hutchison

  • Etienne Lavigne
  • Alejandra Perez-Gomez

  • Jonathan Renna
  • Rebekah Rimsay

Prominent National Ballet dancers


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Crabb, Michael; Cornell, Katherine (2015-03-04). "National Ballet of Canada". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  2. 1 2 James Neufeld (1996). Power to Rise: The Story of National Ballet of Canada. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-4109-4.
  3. "Celia Franca". Telegraph. 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  4. 1 2 The National Ballet of Canada Website accessed 22 March 2007
  5. Crabb, Michael; Cornell, Katherine (2015-03-04). "Reid Bryce Anderson". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  6. Citron, Paula (2013-10-10). "Keeping a legacy alive is a labour of love for Reid Anderson". The Globe and Mail. Philip Crawley. Retrieved 2015-05-20.
  7. Crabb, Michael. "The National Ballet School of Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  8. Doob, Penelope Reed; Crabb, Michael. "Kain, Karen". Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  9. "National Ballet's 'Sleeping Beauty' to awaken in new home". 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  10. Doob, Penelope Reed; Bowring, Amy. "Augustyn, Frank". Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  11. "Mikhail Baryshnikov archive". New York Public Library. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
  12. Natalia Makarova, A Dance Autobiography (Knopf 1979), p. 152.
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