Although Canada as a ballet nation is not very old, the country today has a number of international class companies. The classical ballet tradition is closely associated with the British, and a number of British dancers have made their mark on Canadian ballet, not least Betty Oliphant through her basic work as head of the ballet school affiliated with the National Ballet of Canada. The oldest company, and by far the second oldest in North America, is the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1988. Together with the National Ballet in Toronto, founded in 1951 by Celia Franca, and Les Grand Ballets Canadiens, founded 1955 in Montreal by Ludmilla Chiriaeff, they are Canada’s leading classical ballet ensemble. Toronto Dance Theater, under its head David Earle, could in turn celebrate its 25th anniversary in 1993 as the most significant contemporary company alongside the Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers and Les Ballets Jazz in Montreal. There are also several smaller ensembles such as Ballet British Columbia in Vancouver and Alberta Ballet in Calgary.
Canada, too, has experienced a generational shift in recent years which, along with financial curtailments, has led to difficult times for the smaller companies and layoffs and curtailments among the largest. The National Ballet, which has been led by Reid Anderson since 1989, has expanded the repertoire with works by a.k.a. Glen Tetley (the company’s artistic advisor in the late 1980s), Sir Kenneth MacMillian and Jiri Kylian. That same year, Linda Stearns, after 28 years as head of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, was followed by Lawrence Rhodes.
Canadian ballet is not only known to talented dancers, but also a number of new and young choreographers are becoming known in and outside Canada. First and foremost James Kudelka, but also Mark Godden, John Alleyne, Christopher House and veteran Greek-born Constantin Patsalas. One problem when it comes to finding their own Canadian dance identity is actually the neighbor in the south. The United States attracts both Canadian dancers and, to a lesser extent, choreographers, and competes in part for the Canadian home audience.