I suspect that most fans of dance know of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The company is Canada’s first professional Ballet company, and surprisingly the oldest continuously running company in North America. They were the first Canadian company to tour Russia, the United States, South America, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Israel, the Caribbean, Egypt, and post revolutionary Cuba., oh and across Canada. They are also the only Canadian dance company to ever been held over from an original booking.
The idea of ballet began in earnest in Winnipeg in 1938 with the arrival of two English ladies. In 1939 the Winnipeg Ballet club was founded by 36 year old Gweneth Lloyd and 23 year old Betty (Hey) Farrally. The other key figure in this triad was David Yeddeau who stage managed and really was the general manager of
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this scrappy little company that would take on any challenge. Between Gweneth, Betty and David the young company was in firm hands.
David Yeddeau conceived and production managed the Canadian Ballet Festival which was first held in Winnipeg in 1948. Then the following year it was held in Toronto, which was the inspiration for a group of Torontoians to organize a ballet company in Toronto, which eventually became the National Ballet. Another snowball effect of Yeddeau’s brain child was when Anatole Chujoy saw what a fabulous festival Yeddeau had pulled together, returned to New York city and pressed for a similar US Regional Ballet festival which first premiered in Atlanta in 1956.
At this point I would like to point out my appreciation to the author and dance critic, Max Wyman, who wrote what I think of as the most readable and well researched portrait of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. His book is called simply, “The Royal Winnipeg Ballet – the first forty years”. This book was published in 1978 by Doubleday Canada. It is nothing short of brilliant. It was certainly my own inspiration in making this film portrait of the RWB and why Max is so featured in this film. So if you are a fan of the company or just like dance I highly recommend searching this book out. It is a great read.
For myself the best part of the RWB’s story is how they began with nothing.; and then how they made something from that nothing. I called them scrappy and they were. They were a tough lot and they stuck with their own vision. They never tried to imitate other companies. They took their inspiration from the geography and the culture of their home of Winnipeg and its people and they became celebrated in international dance centres in Russia, England and across the United States for their unique style and as it was often called ‘Prairie Freshness’. They made much of their honest performances and integrity. In those years they made their own rules, their own guidelines and their own goals.
Though the company did have as much bad luck as good luck. They endured not one but two fires, numerous set backs, many of them financial and they just hauled themselves up by their britches and kept on with it.
So they could have been any group of people pursuing any dream. They just happened to be dancers pursuing their dream to dance. This film is certainly not the whole story but it is a salut to the company and all of the dancers, tech people and their audiences.
Betty Farrally – Co-founder of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet