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Toronto Stages: Dancing Through Time

Toronto is a city filled with dance stories. A Dance Collection Danse exhibit at the Market Gallery in 2011 displayed 275 images and artifacts – it only covered 80 years of the city’s history… and there was still more to tell. As Canada’s most culturally diverse city, Toronto also boasts an incredible range of dance practices on its stages reflecting the people and cultures that make up this city. In order to succinctly cover a variety of dance stories since the 20 th century, this collaborative virtual exhibit between Dance Collection Danse and Fall for Dance North uses 14 of the city’s venues that have been home to dance. Their heyday as dance spaces also reflects a loose chronology of the city’s dance history taking us from the days when Anna Pavlova floated across the stage at Massey Hall to the most innovative works featured at the annual Fall for Dance North festival. Throughout human history, art has provided escape from the trials of life while also acting as a mirror to society. History will reflect the early 2020s as such a time, so we invite you to escape into the beauty and the stories of the dances that have graced our Toronto stages.


Amy Bowring

Executive and Curatorial Director

Dance Collection Danse

Image: Alison Sutcliffe’s dancers on a Toronto rooftop, c.1935(Alison Sutcliffe Portfolio,Dance Collection Danse)

Massey Hall

Massey Hall was a gift to the City of Toronto from Hart Massey, who had gained his wealth by manufacturing farming equipment. Whereas churches had been the main venues for musical concerts and social activities, Massey Hall provided a more secular space for these events when it opened in 1894. The original façade did not include the fire escape we see today, which will be removed during the current building renovations. The escape was added in 1904 during a major shift in fire safety in North American and European theatres after several fires with many casualties had occurred, in particular, the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago that killed over 600 people. In Massey Hall’s early history, dance was a vital part of its programming alongside music and lectures. International stars such as Anna Pavlova and Mary Wigman, as well as local teachers such as Amy Sternberg and the Birdsall Sisters, used the venue for their performances. The building was designated as a Heritage Property by the City of Toronto in 1973 and declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981.

Massey Hall, 1913 (Photo courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1497, Series 387, Item 18)

Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova performed in Toronto ten times between 1910 and 1924 almost exclusively at Massey Hall. Her performances created a demand for ballet that led local teachers to add it to their usual offerings of ballroom and national dances.

(Anna Pavlova broadsheet, Alison Sutcliffe Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Amy Sternberg’s Fantastic Extravaganza

Toronto’s early dance teachers were also its main source for dance performances. Amy Sternberg’s Fantastic Extravaganza of 1915 was a wartime fundraiser at Massey Hall consisting of roughly 200 performers including children and adults.

(The cast of the Fantastic Extravaganza, 1915, Amy Sternberg Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

The Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo

The Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, with its bold style, was always a welcome visitor for Toronto audiences in the 1930s. Local lighting designer Allan Sangster caught this behind-the-curtain moment at Massey Hall in 1935.

(Irina Baronova in Bronislava Nijinska’s 1922 staging of Le Mariage d’Aurore, Massey Hall, 1935, Photo by Allan Sangster, Alison Sutcliffe Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Eaton Auditorium

The Eaton Auditorium opened in 1930 as part of Eaton’s flagship department store. The T. Eaton Company Ltd. was a retail giant in Canada from 1869-1999 with department stores and a mail order business. The 7th floor of Eaton’s College Street store housed the auditorium, smaller lounges, and the Round Room restaurant – one of Toronto’s most elegant dining establishments with its Art Moderne style designed by Jacques Carlu. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the venue was popular for recitals by dance teachers such as Boris Volkoff, Jean Macpherson, Bettina Byers, and others. It’s also where the National Ballet of Canada had its debut. When Eaton’s moved its flagship store south to the Eaton Centre in 1977, the 7th floor of what became College Park was closed for nearly three decades. Having been declared a Heritage Property in 1975, the owners could not convert the space, but nor did they have to maintain it. Having fallen into disrepair, the 7th floor was restored in the early 2000s and reopened as the event venue The Carlu in 2003.

Detail from a house program cover, Eaton Auditorium, November 16, 1933 (Alison Sutcliffe Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Boris Volkoff

Boris Volkoff, a Russian émigré recognized as the father of Canadian Ballet, used the Eaton Auditorium regularly for his Volkoff Canadian Ballet. Some of the dancers he trained in the 1930s went on to illustrious careers, including Melissa Hayden of New York City Ballet fame. Many of his dancers from the 1940s became original members of the National Ballet of Canada.

(Members of Volkoff’s company in his work Extase, 1936, Boris Volkoff Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

The National Ballet of Canada

The National Ballet of Canada had its premiere in November 1951 at the Eaton Auditorium. Before the National Ballet Guild had the funds for a director’s salary, Eaton’s employed National Ballet Artistic Director Celia Franca when she first arrived in Canada to establish the new company.

(National Ballet patrons lining up for tickets at the Eaton Auditorium box office, 1951, Frank Rasky Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

The Cansinos

The Eaton Auditorium was a popular venue for touring international artists. The Cansinos were a Spanish dance dynasty with Antonio Cansino moving his family from Madrid to New York in 1913. His children Angel, Eduardo, and Elisa performed on vaudeville as The Dancing Cansinos. In 1933, Angel performed at the Eaton Auditorium in concert with Toronto ballet teacher Dimitri Vladimiroff.

(Broadsheet for José Cansino and Tonia de Aragon’s performance, 1935, Alison Sutcliffe Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Royal Alexandra Theatre

Built in the Edwardian era and named for King Edward VII’s consort, Queen Alexandra, the Royal Alexandra Theatre opened in 1907. The project was initiated by a group of business leaders who wanted to bring international attention to Toronto. Among them was primary financier Cawthra Mulock, who wanted the theatre built with a steel frame to demonstrate the products produced by his foundry. Architect John Lyle’s Beaux-Arts training influenced the design. It was the first air-conditioned theatre in North America sustained by an ice pit located under the orchestra and it was among the first fire-proof theatres. Its cantilevered balconies, also a first in North America, allow for uninterrupted sightlines. The Royal Alex has played host to Col. de Basil’s Ballets Russes, Sadler’s Wells Ballet, Ballets Jooss, Inbal Dance Theater of Israel, José Greco and his Spanish Ballet, and many more. Restored in 1963 by businessman Ed Mirvish, the theatre is currently among those owned and operated by Mirvish Productions. It became an Ontario Heritage site in 1975 and a National Historic Site in 1987.

Royal Alexandra Theatre, 1908 (Flea Market Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

The Canadian Ballet Festivals

The Canadian Ballet Festivals were a major catalyst for the development of professional dance in Canada. Six festivals were held in various Canadian cities between 1948 and 1954 including the Royal Alex in 1949 and 1952. They received significant media attention from CBC radio, the National Film Board, and newspapers across Canada.

(Volkoff Canadian Ballet backstage, Royal Alexandra Theatre, Second Canadian Ballet Festival, 1949, Boris Volkoff Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Fourth Canadian Ballet Festival

A poster for the Fourth Canadian Ballet Festival at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 1952.

(Nancy Lima Dent Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Jury Gotshalks and Irene Apinée

The Royal Alex was the main Toronto venue for the National Ballet of Canada throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Company members included Irene Apinée and Jury Gotshalks who had danced with the National Opera Ballet Company in Riga during the Russian and German invasions of their country in World War II. They were eventually displaced from Latvia and made their way to Canada in 1947.

(Jury Gotshalks and Irene Apinée, Jim Bolsby Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre

The Elgin Theatre, originally named Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre, opened in December 1913. The theatre was designed by prominent American theatre architect, Thomas Lamb. The Winter Garden Theatre, built above the Elgin and decorated so one felt immersed in a garden, opened a couple of months later. The theatres were part of Marcus Loew’s circuit of Vaudeville houses, which included Toronto’s Uptown Theatre. By 1914, Toronto had six vaudeville theatres and, though built like ornate palaces, the theatres offered cheap entertainment to the masses. Like many of the city’s vaudeville theatres, the Elgin and Winter Garden fell on hard times when the Great Depression curbed theatre attendance. Once a mix of live performance and movies, the programming at these theatres shifted to only movies in the 1930s and many were converted into multiplex cinemas. Such was the fate of the Elgin and Winter Garden until a major restoration project led by the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1981 revived the theatre to its original glory. It is the last operating double-decker theatre in the world.

Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre (Huguette Dion / CC BY-SA,

The Uptown Girls

This image, from the Elgin and Winter Garden’s sister theatre The Uptown, is typical of the dancing fare offered to vaudeville audiences. The Uptown Girls gave four shows a day, six days a week, and typically worked 12- to 14-hour workdays.

(Uptown Girls chorus line, 1929, Evelyn Geary Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)


Following the massive renovation of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, the Broadway hit Cats was the first show to premiere at the newly restored theatre and led a resurgence of Broadway shows in Toronto.

(Cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, Elgin Theatre, 1985, Dance in Canada Photo Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

Veronica Tennant’s A Pairing of Swans

Though not frequently used for dance performances now, the Winter Garden Theatre was the location for Veronica Tennant’s A Pairing of Swans featuring Evelyn Hart and Rex Harrington. Hart revisits the famous Pavlova solo The Dying Swan choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905, and Harrington dances a contemporary work by Tennant. It is a prime example of Toronto’s vibrant dance-film scene.

(Cover art, Veronica Tennant’s A Pairing of Swans, 2005, Moving Image Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

Hart House Theatre

Built in Gothic Collegiate style, Hart House Theatre opened on the University of Toronto campus in 1919 and is known as the cradle of Toronto’s performing arts. It is part of a larger student recreation complex called Hart House donated to the university by Vincent Massey in honour of his grandfather, Hart Massey. State-of-the-art in 1919, it was the first Canadian theatre to have a cyclorama and dimmable lighting. It was central to an expanding visual and performing arts scene in Toronto in the 1930s despite the struggles presented by the Great Depression. Productions were highly collaborative and involved artists from the Toronto Conservatory of Music, Arts & Crafts movement, Group of Seven, and Toronto’s early choreographers and dance teachers. As modern dance began to develop to a greater extent in the 1960s, a series of modern dance festivals were held at Hart House Theatre. And then groups from the 1970s, such as Diana Vorps’s Canadian Junior Ballet, Toronto Dance Theatre, and Dancemakers gave performances here.

Hart House Theatre, 2020 (Photo by Ian Kelly, Ian Kelly Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Alison Sutcliffe

Alison Sutcliffe was the director of dance at Hart House Theatre in the 1930s. She also taught ballet, modern, and Spanish dance for the Toronto (later Royal) Conservatory of Music and choreographed frequently for Dorothy Goulding’s Toronto Children Players.

(Alison Sutcliffe, Alison Sutcliffe Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Ola Skanks

Ola Skanks performed at Hart House Theatre as part of the 1961 modern dance festival. Skanks is the first-known Toronto artist to combine African dance forms, such as Ghanaian dance, with modern dance. She also played a major role as a designer of African-inspired fashion.

(Ola Skanks, Ola Skanks Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Al Green Theatre

The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre is a recreational complex that also houses the Al Green Theatre, but its roots go back to the very beginning of athletic and cultural activity in Toronto’s Jewish community. Under the spectre of anti-Semitism within many of Toronto’s social and athletic clubs, several Jewish recreation groups amalgamated in 1919 to form the Hebrew Association of Young Men’s and Young Women’s Clubs (later the YM-YWHA). By 1937, the association had a purpose-built space in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, but soon outgrew it. A new centre was built at Bloor and Spadina in 1953. This lively space for arts, athletics, education, and cultural programming underwent a massive renovation from 2001-2003 including the installation of the Al Green Theatre. The Jewish Community Centre has always welcomed dance, in particular modern dance when it was a very new artistic expression in the city. Some of Toronto’s earliest modern dance artists came from the Jewish community, including Saida Gerrard and Cynthia Barrett. These artists were also among the city’s first to use dance as social commentary creating works about the oppression of Jewish people.

Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, 2020 (Photo by Ian Kelly, Ian Kelly Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Cynthia Barrett

Cynthia Barrett had studied modern dance in New York at the Mary Wigman School. Wigman’s German Expressionist modern dance, as well as that of Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, informed the classes she taught and the choreography she made while directing the YM-YWHA’s Modern Dance Theatre in the 1940s.

(Cynthia Barrett, 1949, Cynthia Barrett Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

The Canadian Modern Dance Festival

The Canadian Modern Dance Festival was held at the YM-YWHA in 1963 presenting some of Canada’s earliest modern dance choreographers from British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec including Norbert Vesak, Birouté Nagys, Yoné Kvietys, Ruth Tutti Lau, Bianca Rogge, and Freda Crisp.

(Program cover for the Canadian Modern Dance Festival, 1963, Nancy Lima Dent Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Yoné Kvietys

Yoné Kvietys migrated to Canada from Lithuania after World War II. Her work in Mary Wigman’s German Expressionist modern dance informed the initial training and performance experience she provided to a group of dancers who would form the first company of Toronto Dance Theatre. These included David Earle, Susan Macpherson, and Donald Himes.

(Yoné Kvietys Contemporary Dance brochure cover, c. 1962, David Earle Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

The Little Pear Garden Dance Company

The Little Pear Garden Dance Company (LPGDC) was founded as Peking Opera Collective in 1994 and evolved into a company focused on the work of Asian choreographers. LPGDC is just one of many small and mid-sized dance companies in Toronto who use the Al Green Theatre.

(LPGDC Artistic Director Emily Cheung in Jeffery Chan’s The Drunken Concubine, Spring Lantern, 2008, Photo by Bob Wilson, LPGDC Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Meridian Hall

Today’s Meridian Hall was originally known as the O’Keefe Centre when it opened in 1960 – a name it carried for 36 years when the O’Keefe Brewing Company funded the building project. When it was conceived in the mid-1950s, there was no large city-run theatre in Toronto. It also came about during a period of growing post-war cultural nationalism following the Massey Commission report in 1951 and the creation of federal arts subsidies in 1957. Dance and musical theatre have been a major part of the Hall’s programming since its beginnings and many large ballet companies, such as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and the Bolshoi Ballet, have performed there. In addition to hosting Fall for Dance North, Meridian Hall’s current dance programming includes the TO Live Dance Collection, which has included performances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Nederlands Dans Theater. The Hall also presents a free lunch-hour discussion and demonstration series called Discover Dance hosted by Nova Dance Artistic Director Nova Bhattacharya.

Meridian Hall, 2020 (Photo courtesy of TO Live)

Les Ballets Africains

Dance companies from all over the world have performed at Meridian Hall during its long history. Les Ballets Africains, the National Ensemble of the Republic of Guinea, performed multiple times including a controversial premiere in 1959. There was considerable press coverage over the debate surrounding costuming and the fact that some of the dances were performed topless by men and women.

(Les Ballets Africains souvenir program, 1965, Flea Market Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

Mikhail Baryshnikov

In 1974, Russian ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov made headlines when he defected from the USSR, exiting the theatre’s backstage door into a waiting car that whisked him off to a remote location. He then made a brief appearance with the National Ballet of Canada, the Hall's then resident ballet company — a residency that lasted from 1964 to 2006.

(Mikhail Baryshnikov and Nadia Potts in Erik Bruhn’s staging of Auguste Bournonville’s La Sylphide for the National Ballet of Canada, 1974, Nadia Potts Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Fall for Dance North

Fall for Dance North premiered at Meridian Hall in 2015 and has become a rousing kick-off to Toronto’s dance season. Featuring a diverse range of dance practices and acclaimed Toronto, Canadian, and international artists, the festival’s $15 tickets for all shows provides unprecedented access to dance in the city, helping to build future audiences.

(Fall for Dance North promotional poster signed by festival artists, 2015, Design by Cosmic Design)

The TO Live Dance Collection

TO Live Dance Collection is a collaborative series between Meridian Hall and Canadian Stage that brings a wide variety of dance forms to Toronto audiences. Building on a previous incarnation of the Dance Collection developed by Mark Hammond, the series has presented Canadian artists, such as Marie Chouinard and Guillaume Côté, as well as international companies such as Nederlands Dans Theater and Australian Indigenous dance company Bangarra Dance Theatre.

(TO Live Dance Collection performance poster, 2018/2019 season, provided courtesy of TO Live)

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Despite being built in the early 1900s as a commercial space, 12 Alexander Street has been synonymous with Toronto’s theatre scene for more than half a century. Its first theatrical tenant was Toronto Workshop Productions (TWP), which moved into the space in 1967. Founded by George Luscombe in 1959, TWP played a major role in the development of Toronto’s alternative theatre scene in the 1960s and ’70s with a new theatrical movement focused on Canadian stories written and performed by Canadian artists. After TWP closed in 1988, the City of Toronto purchased the property to preserve it as a performing arts space in perpetuity. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, which is committed to supporting and presenting queer performance, became the building’s next and still current tenant. Dance has been part of the building’s history since the 1970s and today includes the drag and burlesque performances in Buddies’ programming. Since 2016, the 2-Spirit Cabaret, in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts and its “Weesageechak Begins to Dance” festival, showcases new work from queer and 2-Spirit Indigenous artists.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Photo Courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre)

Toronto Dance Theatre

Toronto Dance Theatre regularly used the TWP theatre in the 1970s before finding its own home on Winchester Street.

(David Earle and Peter Randazzo in Randazzo’s I Had Two Sons, 1969, Suzanne Charlton Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Toronto Modern Dance Festival

The 1976 Toronto Modern Dance Festival created great excitement and new audiences for dance – the fastest growing art form of the 1970s. Festival artists included Toronto Dance Theatre, Danny Grossman, Margaret Dragu, Dancemakers, Judy Jarvis, and Kathryn Brown.

(Kathryn Brown promotional poster, Design by John Fraser, 1976, Flea Market Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists

From 1991-2006 the fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists (fFIDA) used 12 Alexander Street as one of its venues. Founded by Allen Kaeja and Michael Menegon, fFIDA, during its peak, was North America’s largest dance festival.

(Robert Glumbek and Je-an Salas in Dominique Dumais’s work do moments of Her dissolve?, 1995, Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, fFIDA Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

The Rhubarb Festival

The Rhubarb Festival, running since 1979, promotes experimental works and is Toronto’s longest-running new works festival.

(Rhubarb Festival promotional poster, 2020, Photography by Tanja Tiziana, Styling by Vancessa Magic and Robert Weir, Design by Lucinda Wallace, provided courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre)

Winchester Street Theatre

Winchester Street Theatre, in the heart of North Cabbagetown, marks a seminal moment in Toronto’s dance story. Purchased by Toronto Dance Theatre (TDT) in 1978, it is likely the first piece of property owned by a dance company in the city’s history. Shared by TDT and the School of the Toronto Dance Theatre, it is a lively space filled with generations of dance artists both at work and in training with its largest studio doubling as a theatre. The building began as St. Enoch’s Presbyterian Church in 1891. Though the neighbourhood was affluent in the Victorian era, all of Cabbagetown suffered during the Great Depression. The building became the Donvale Community Centre in the late 1960s. Its purchase by Toronto Dance Theatre in 1978 coincided with the gradual gentrification of the neighbourhood as urban professionals began restoring dilapidated Victorian homes. It has been a thriving centre for dance ever since – a place for young artists and production staff to cut their teeth, and for established artists to pass on knowledge.

Winchester Street Theatre, 2020 (Photo by Ian Kelly, Ian Kelly Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Purchase of 80 Winchester Street

David Earle, Judy Miller, Judith Hendin, Susan Macpherson, Peter Randazzo, René Highway, Eric Bobrow, Nancy Ferguson, Patricia Beatty, Ricardo Abreut, and Claudia Moore celebrating Toronto Dance Theatre’s purchase of 80 Winchester Street, 1978.

(Photo by Andrew Oxenham, Andrew Oxenham Photo Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

René Highway

Toronto Dance Theatre has a long history of nurturing dancers who also make a name for themselves outside the company. Beginning in the 1980s, Cree artist René Highway was among the first Indigenous dance artists to take inspiration from his own culture and develop choreography and theatrical productions that shared the stories and experiences of Indigenous performers.

(René Highway in an unidentified work, Photo by Andrew Oxenham, Andrew Oxenham Photo Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

Anandam Dancetheatre

“The Winch” has been integral to dance artists for rehearsals and performances. Anandam Dancetheatre has presented Contemporaneity there – a series that expresses alternative definitions of the “contemporary” meaning current, suggesting that all forms of dance happening today hold contemporary space. In more recent dance history, “contemporary” has often been used erroneously as a substitute for only modern and postmodern European/North American dance.

(Padmini Chettur in Philosophical Enactments I, commissioned for Contemporaneity 3.0, 2019, Curators B. Leary, S. Peerbaye, Photo by Greg Wong, courtesy of Anandam Dancetheatre)

Christopher House

Christopher House has been involved with Toronto Dance Theatre since the company purchased 80 Winchester and has, arguably, spent more time in the building than anyone. He joined TDT as a performer in 1979, was Resident Choreographer from 1984-1996, and Artistic Director from 1996-2020.

(Christopher House in News by Deborah Hay, as part of Toronto Dance Theatre’s 2020 House Gala. Film still (cinematography by Nico Stagias))

15 Dance Lab

Located in a former brass foundry, 15 Dance Lab was Toronto’s first venue for experimental dance. By day, the Lab’s founders, Lawrence and Miriam Adams, ran a framing business and then tidied up the tools to open the theatre in the evenings. Built in the round and consisting of 41 seats, the intimate space provided a non-curated and open venue to performers. Then-emerging choreographers Christopher House, Margie Gillis, and Marie Chouinard are some of the artists who performed at 15 Dance Lab. For a growing number of young independent artists, among them graduates of the first university dance program in Canada at York University, 15 Dance Lab was a place to think and talk about dance, to experiment with postmodern ways of moving, and to collaborate with a variety of artists in other disciplines. By 1983, the Adamses felt that 15 Dance Lab had served its purpose and closed the studio-theatre; three years later, they founded Dance Collection Danse.

(Lawrence and Miriam Adams with Stanley and Mr. Dog, and Jackie Malden, outside 15 Dance Lab, 155a George St., Lawrence and Miriam Adams Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Lawrence and Miriam Adams

Lawrence and Miriam Adams had been dancers with the National Ballet of Canada until 1969 when they left for more iconoclastic adventures.

(Lawrence and Miriam Adams in Miriam’s Watch Me Dance You Bastards, 1978, Lawrence and Miriam Adams Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Rina Singha and Menaka Thakkar

Newly arrived in Canada, South Asian dancers Rina Singha and Menaka Thakkar found space to perform at 15 when other venues focused their programming on western dance forms.

(Rina Singha performing at 15 Dance Lab, c. 1974, Rina Singha Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Postmodern Dance Movement

The postmodern dance movement was really given a chance to thrive at 15 Dance Lab. Many of the artists in this image were regular performers at 15 and worked independently, outside of a traditional company structure.

(Margaret Dragu, Lawrence Adams, Jill Bellos, Peter Dudar, Susan Aaron, Lily Eng, Elizabeth Chitty, and Miriam Adams, 1975, Lawrence and Miriam Adams Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Ryerson Theatre

Ryerson Theatre encompasses the northwest corner of a four-building complex called Kerr Hall at the centre of the Ryerson University campus. Opened in 1964, the theatre’s original purpose was to provide a space for convocation ceremonies at what was then Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. In 1971, Ryerson opened new programs for theatre administration, acting, dance, and technical production under the banner of the Ryerson Theatre School. The school’s dance section focussed on teacher training and had incorporated the Canadian College of Dance, founded in Montreal by Maisie McPhee and Sonia Chamberlain, to train teachers in the methods of the Royal Academy of Dance and Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. Under the leadership of Nadia Potts, the school evolved to focus on performance and choreographic training for dancers who receive full-scale production experience performing at the Ryerson Theatre and working with guest choreographers. The school also prepares the next generation of production staff with many graduates focusing on design and administration for dance.

Ryerson Theatre, 2020

Touring Companies

With a rapidly growing number of modern dance companies emerging across Canada in the 1970s, collaborations between Ryerson’s new theatre school and local dance companies, such as Toronto Dance Theatre, contributed to a rise in touring. Companies such as Anna Wyman Dance Theatre are among those who performed in Toronto.

(Anna Wyman Dance Company poster, 1975, Dance in Canada Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

“Dance!” Series

From 1980-1983 producers Mark Hammond and Uriel Luft presented the Dance! series at Ryerson Theatre. Their highly successful programming brought international artists such as the Martha Graham Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Les Ballets Trockadero to Toronto audiences.

(Program cover for the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company presented by Dance!, Kay Macpherson Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Fall for Dance North and Ryerson University’s School of Performance

Fall for Dance North began a partnership with Ryerson University’s School of Performance in 2018. The festival uses the Ryerson Theatre as a second stage and also runs an Artist-in-Residence program; Montreal’s Anne Plamondon was the inaugural artist. This artistic residency intersects deeply with the dance program at Ryerson’s School of Performance.

(Anne Plamondon (left) and Belinda McGuire (right) in festival commission Counter Cantor by Anne Plamondon and Emma Portner, 2018, Photo by Bruce Zinger)

Fleck Dance Theatre

Developed in the 1970s to rejuvenate Toronto’s waterfront and promote the city’s cultural offerings, Harbourfront Centre has become a mainstay of Toronto’s performing arts scene. In addition to venues important to dance, such as the Brigantine Room and Harbourfront Theatre, this waterside complex boasts Toronto’s first purpose-built contemporary dance theatre, the Fleck Dance Theatre. Built as the Premiere Dance Theatre in 1983, and renamed in 2008 after James and Margaret Fleck funded its renovation, the theatre’s creation marks a key moment in Canadian dance history. The Fleck Dance Theatre was built with modern and postmodern dance in mind offering a mid-size theatre with just under 500 seats, thus providing the dance community with options between intimate studio spaces and large-capacity theatres. It also contains a lighting grid designed by the late Nicholas Cernovitch who was a preeminent lighting designer for dance. This contemporary theatre is attached to the historic Toronto Terminal Warehouse (now Queens Quay Terminal), which was built in 1927 to provide cold storage for Toronto’s bustling industrial port area.

Artist’s rendering of the interior of the Queens Quay Terminal before the renovation, c. 1981, (Dance in Canada Photo Collection, Dance Collection Danse)


Harbourfront Theatre has been a long-time host of DanceWorks, Toronto’s oldest dance presentation series dating back to 1977, and curated by Mimi Beck since 1979.

(Denise Fujiwara in Tedd Robinson’s Heroic Garb and Intimate Marching, 2001, Photo by John Lauener, DanceWorks Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Desrosiers Dance Theatre

Some of Desrosiers Dance Theatre’s earliest performances were given in the Brigantine Room at Harbourfront Centre.

(Robert Desrosiers and Claudia Moore in Desrosier’s Bad Weather, 1981, Photo by Frank Richards, Frank Richards Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

A Space for Dance

The theatre has been rented frequently by several of Toronto’s mid-sized dance companies such as Danny Grossman Dance Company, Dancemakers, COBA (Collective of Black Artists), Kaha:wi Dance, and Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre.

(Bohdan Romaniw, Judy Miller, Richard Bowen, and Pamela Grundy in Danny Grossman’s 1981 work Nobody’s Business, 1985, Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, Cylla von Tiedemann Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)


COBA (Collective of Black Artists) in BaKari I. Lindsay’s Primal Fete.

(Photo by David Hou, BaKari I. Lindsay Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre

Poster for Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s Re-Quickening by Santee Smith, 2016.

(Kaha:wi Dance Theatre Portfolio, Dance Collection Danse)

Canadian and International dance

Over the decades, the Fleck Dance Theatre has presented a number of dance series under various banners bringing in Canadian and international dance companies such as Ballet BC and the David Parson’s Dance Company.

(David Parsons Dance Company in Parson’s 1984 work The Envelope, Harbourfront Centre Photo Collection, Dance Collection Danse)

Kalanidhi International Festival of Indian Dance

Harbourfront Centre plays a vital role in the presentation of community-based events that include dance and provide opportunities for visitors to engage with the vibrantly diverse make-up of Toronto. The Kalanidhi International Festival of Indian Dance, founded by Sudha Khandwani, was a long-standing addition to the Harbourfront season that did much to educate audiences about South Asian dance forms.

(Nova Bhattacharya in her work Unspoken, premiered at Kalanidhi, 2009, Photo by John Lauener, provided courtesy of Nova Bhattacharya)

Betty Oliphant Theatre

Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) was founded in 1959 by Celia Franca and Betty Oliphant. The school was originally located in a former Quaker Meeting house at 100 Maitland Street (still maintained by the school as Currie Hall). Today, NBS is an internationally acclaimed training organization with extensive studios, offices, student residences, and a theatre all located in the neighbourhood surrounding its original building. Known colloquially as the “Betty O”, the Betty Oliphant Theatre opened in 1988 when Oliphant, the school’s director, wanted to ensure that the training of her students included experience on a professional stage. The School presents its annual Spring Showcase highlighting the artistry of its students. The theatre is also used by Peggy Baker, artist-in-residence at NBS since 1993, as well as many festivals, companies, and independent artists such as the CanAsian Dance Festival, ProArteDanza, and Hari Krishnan.

Betty Oliphant Theatre, Canada’s National Ballet School, 2020 (Photo by Ian Kelly, Ian Kelly Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

Mavis Staines

Mavis Staines has been Artistic Director of Canada’s National Ballet School since 1989, and she has been on the teaching faculty since 1982. Innovation and progressive pedagogical approaches have been hallmarks of her tenure.

(Mavis Staines, provided courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School)

Peggy Baker

Peggy Baker is one of Canada’s most-respected contemporary dance artists. She has premiered many works at the Betty Oliphant Theatre and has experimented with how she configures the theatre, occasionally putting both audience and performer on stage creating an intimate space that shifts orientation and expectation.

(Peggy Baker in Paul-André Fortier’s Loin, très loin, c. 2000, Photo by Marc Beaulieu, Peggy Baker Electronic Archives, Dance Collection Danse)

made in canada | fait au canada

Yvonne Ng’s dance: made in canada | fait au canada is a biannual festival that uses all available space at the Betty Oliphant Theatre with performances indoors and out, film viewings, art installations, and artist talks and lectures.

(Linnea Swan and Susie Burpee in their work Road Trip: Drive-In, 2019, a dance:made in/fait au canada Festival’s Arts Encounters commission, Photo by Irvin Chow, provided courtesy of d:mic|fac)

The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance

The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance is among Toronto’s newer dance spaces though the building in which it is housed is more than a century old. Built in 1912 as a Salvation Army Citadel, the building’s resident church provided its impoverished local community with spiritual support and meals in the area then known as South Cabbagetown. A working-class community by the mid-19th century, the extant poverty prior to World War I increased through the Great Depression. Existing buildings were demolished in 1948 to create Regent Park, Canada’s first public housing project. The standard of living improved initially but, by the late 20th century, the area was known for poverty and crime. When dance artists Laurence Lemieux and Bill Coleman bought the Citadel in 2007, they reimagined it as a space for classes, rehearsals, and performances. Their timing coincided with the redevelopment of Regent Park into a neighbourhood of mixed-income housing, community recreation, cultural centres, shops, and restaurants. The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance fit perfectly into the redevelopment philosophy and is now a thriving dance hub.

The Citadel, Photo by Linda M. Stella, provided courtesy of Citadel + Compagnie

Laurence Lemieux’s "Vimy 1917"

Citadel + Compagnie, produces new work by Artistic Director Laurence Lemieux, remounts seminal Canadian dance works, and engages in projects with choreographer James Kudelka. Laurence Lemieux’s Vimy 1917, created for the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, included a connection to Pte. William James Hawkey, a local resident who served at Vimy.

(Tyler Gledhill, Philip McDermott, Daniel Gomez, Luke Garwood, Zhenya Cerneacov, Andrew McCormack, Brodie Stevenson, and Connor Mitton in Laurence Lemieux’s Vimy 1917, 2017. Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh, provided courtesy of Citadel + Compagnie)

James Kudelka

James Kudelka is among Canada’s most acclaimed and prolific choreographers. His association with the company as Resident Choreographer (2008-2020) has given him the opportunity to truly test movement’s scope of expression.

(Laurence Lemieux in James Kudelka’s From the House of Mirth, 2012, Photo by Paul-Antoine Taillefer, provided courtesy of Citadel + Compagnie)

Series and Co-presentations

The Citadel offers multiple presentation series capturing the diversity of dance practices in Toronto. Bright Nights showcases artists ranging from emerging to established, and Night Shift celebrates a breadth of dance forms in a late-night festival format. Co-presentations have included Charles Smith’s Wind in the Leaves Collective.

(Syreeta Hector in her work Black Ballerina, promotional poster for Citadel Dance Mix 2019, Bright Nights, Photo by Francesca Chudnoff, Design by, provided courtesy of Citadel + Compagnie)

Community Studio Access

The Citadel offers free studio access to important neighbourhood initiatives including Toronto Council Fire’s Indigenous dance program called First Fire; past endeavours have included the Toronto Police Force 51 Division’s youth and hip-hop program, and Regent Park School of Music. The company’s Citadel Dance Program offers full scholarships to Regent Park residents and subsidized classes for low-income families.

(Students of The Citadel Dance Program, Winter Recital, 2018, Photo by Laurence Lemieux, provided courtesy of Citadel + Compagnie)