In 1938, Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally arrived in Winnipeg to share their love of dance with their new community. In 1939, The Canadian School of Ballet began with six dancers training under the careful eyes of Miss Lloyd and Miss Farrally. The two women also founded the Winnipeg Ballet Club, which held its first performance in 1939 dancing to two prairie-accessible pieces Grain and Kilowatt Magic. Both pieces were choreographed by the two founders and were performed by students of the School.
Only one year after the School began, students were ready to be tested by an examiner from London’s Royal Academy of Dancing. In 1943, The Winnipeg Ballet was formed and all dancers in the Company were from the School. Six years after that the Company incorporated as a non-profit cultural organization and became a professional company with all the dancers coming from the School and from Winnipeg.
In 1950, Gweneth Lloyd moved to Toronto to open a branch of the Canadian Ballet School, while Betty Farrally stayed in Winnipeg to head both the School and the Company. Seven years later Betty ended her connection with the Company now known as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (made Royal by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953). Ms Farrally continued to own and operate the Canadian Ballet School with Gweneth Lloyd. Five years later the Royal Winnipeg Ballet took over the School and it became known as the School of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet with Jean McKenzie as the Principal. A scholarship program was formed in 1964 with full-time students.
In 1970, the Board of the RWB and Artistic Director Arnold Spohr realized a new professional school model was necessary to further the Company’s growth. David Moroni was designated the individual with the talent and ability to make this a reality. Mr. Moroni established a training program designed to produce highly trained classical ballet dancers. These graduates would ensure a continuous and talented stream of artists for the Company, which was gaining recognition for performing versatile contemporary works as well as full-length classics. The School of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet continued to operate a General Division, later renamed the Recreational Division.
In developing the Professional Division (PD) it became clear that a sound, progressive and well-structured basic training method was needed. Mr. Moroni was greatly influenced by his work with the late Vera Volkova, and knew that a curriculum based on the Russian System would fulfill that requirement. Fundamental to the success of the entire system was, and remains, the development of a talented, committed and well-educated staff of dance teachers possessing a clear and thorough understanding of the method as adopted by the School. As finances would allow, several masters, including the late Julia Arkos, Emilia Bogomolava and Galina Yordanova, were invited to teach at the School. As well as teaching students, these masters worked at length with the RWB teaching staff during pedagogy seminars.
As knowledge and experience increased in the teaching staff, adjustments have been made in the curriculum to suit both the temperament and physiques of the North American dancer, changing approaches to pedagogy, and shifting attitudes to instruction. The process has been a gradual one, and over time has evolved into a successful training system unique to the RWB School.
The program was designed to develop dancers in the specific style of the RWB Company. The RWB Company built its international reputation on its ability to perform widely varying styles of ballet with equal credibility and its performance of a very eclectic repertoire made possible by that ability. The training also allows graduates to find employment in companies across Canada, the US and Europe. Graduates have also found careers in dance related professions such as teaching, choreography, costume and set design, sports medicine and arts administration.
Mr. Moroni’s own personal experience as a leading performer ultimately guided his perception in realizing the need to include an equally structured system of classes dedicated to the development of a solid formation in the art of partnering (pas de deux).
It has been a priority for the School to develop a strong modern dance component to its curriculum. Under the direction of Josée Garant, the School carefully developed a curriculum of modern dance especially designed to complement the classical training. This contemporary work incorporates elements of the Martha Graham, José Limon and Merce Cunningham techniques.
In 1986, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet began construction of a unique facility, which includes 10 dance studios (including a performance studio), physiotherapy room, administrative and production offices, box office and wardrobe department. This facility was officially opened in January 1988 and is home to the RWB Company and RWB School Professional and Recreational Divisions. To support the artistic training of young dancers, an integrated academic and dance program was developed in 1994, and a residence capable of housing up to 70 students was built in 1995 adjacent to the studio facilities.
The present structure of the Professional Division Ballet Academic Program is an intensive four week summer session in July which serves as an audition period for students wishing to enter the full time Fall/Winter session. Summer Session introduces students to the discipline and high standards required of a professional dancer. The Fall/Winter session is a full-time, seven level training program beginning in September and finishing in mid-June. Professional Division students dance between 14 and 25 hours per week, depending on age level and program of study while also attending academic classes. Students who have completed high school participate in dance classes throughout the day.
As part of the RWBS’ commitment to developing and maintaining excellence in the art of teaching dance, the Teachers’ Summer Seminar was established. First offered in 1981, the Seminar is carefully designed to enrich the knowledge required in teaching dance. The Seminar is intended for established teachers with opportunities available for dance schools and studios to sponsor teaching assistants to also attend. Participants study specific elements of dance technique in order to develop their ability to teach the art with confidence and sensitivity.
The Teacher Training Program (TTP) evolved shortly thereafter. Founded by former RWBS faculty member Elaine Werner-Hutchinson in the 1983-84 season, the TTP is an intensive course designed to enrich knowledge and provide skills required for a career in dance education. Johanne Gingras, who arrived in 1984 and further developed the program, was eventually named TTP Director in 1997. The program is now a three-year course of study that has remained flexible enough to allow those with a professional background the possibility of graduating within two years. Additional mentorship-based programs are developed on an ad hoc basis to meet the needs of professional artists looking to transition into teaching. TTP facilitates the training of recreational and professional teachers, depending upon the individual student’s aptitude and experience.
An Aspirant Program was established in 1999 within the RWB Company and moved under the School’s direction in 2000. The Aspirant Program involves intensive study designed specifically for post-secondary advanced classical ballet students who are making the transition from student to professional artist. The focus of the program is two-fold: preparing the dancer for upcoming auditions and providing them with performance opportunities.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Professional Division offers individuals pursuing a career in a dance a program of study that is dedicated to the development of a well-rounded and versatile artist, incorporating in its technical aims the need of the individual to develop abilities that enable her/him to fulfill personal aspirations within the context of a strong social responsibility.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Recreational Division remains an integral part of the community of Winnipeg and surrounding areas nurturing those wishing to build on their skills and talents within a supportive, positive environment of quality instruction. Students are encouraged to explore their artistic abilities and interests while pursuing the many health benefits recreational dance affords.