In an era when most contemporary ballet companies presented mixed programs, Gradimir Pankov added a new dimension to Les Grands' programs by commissioning evening-length story ballets. reshaped Les Grands into a starless troupe of young and versatile dancers chosen for their personalities as much as their technique.
Gradimir Pankov, dancer, ballet master, teacher, artistic director and artistic director emeritus (born 25 October 1938 in Skopje, Macedonia). Having been the artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater II, the National Ballet of Finland, the Cullberg Ballet in Sweden and the Ballet du Grande Théâtre de Genѐve, Gradimir Pankov moved to Canada in 1999 to take over Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.
Education and Early Career
Gradimir Pankov performed folk dances as a child, but a chance to watch the great Danish dancer Erik Bruhn on stage inspired him to pursue a career in ballet. At 17, he began training in classical ballet and music under teachers Mile Jovanovich, Olga Milosavljeva and Boris Dobrohotov. A year later, while still a student, he joined the National Ballet of the Macedonian Opera. After graduating in 1959, he stayed in Yugoslavia, performing as guest artist with various ballet companies, including those of Novi Sad, Zagreb and Sarajevo. He maintained his dancing career during his military service in 1962–63.
An innovative career began in 1967. In Germany, he danced with ballet companies in Nuremberg, Karlsruhe, Wuppertal, Munich and Mannheim, performing principal roles in Romeo and Juliet (Mercurio), Pulcinello, Petruska and Afternoon of a Faun. He became ballet master and assistant director at the Städtische Bühnen Dortmund (Dortmund Municipal Theatre Ballet) in 1976.
Three years later he joined the Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague as teacher and artistic director of the junior company, later known as NDT II. In Holland, he met Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián and Swedish dance maker Mats Ek, with whom he established life-long friendships and professional associations. From 1981 to 1984, Pankov was artistic director of the Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki. Instead of adhering to the company's traditional repertoire of Russian and Soviet classics, he introduced and commissioned works by young Finnish choreographers and others, and also showed pieces by masters never before seen in Finland like Ek, Kylián, Kurt Joos, Heinz Spoerli, Rudi van Danzig, Roberto Trinchero and George Balanchine.
Pankov moved to Stockholm in 1984 to direct Sweden's Cullberg Ballet, which he toured extensively abroad. One of these tours brought him to Canada in 1985.
In 1988, he was teacher and artistic director at the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland. He inaugurated a new model of artistic direction by replacing the post of resident choreographer with guest choreographers, a practice that became the norm among many contemporary ballet companies. He also encouraged his dancers to choreograph by organizing choreography workshops.
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal
Gradimir Pankov entered semi-retirement in 1996, becoming a freelance ballet teacher with the Cullberg and Royal Swedish Ballets, Lisbon's Gulbenkian, NDT, New York's American Ballet Theater, Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company,and the ballet companies of the Opéra de Paris and the Opéra de Lyon.
In 1999, he returned as artistic director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, where he presented established international choreographers and emerging artists while encouraging company dancers to choreograph. He commissioned new works annually, introducing North American audiences to many young European choreographers, among them former Geneva dancers Stijn Celis, who created several ballets for the Montréal company, Didy Veldman and Kim Brandstrup. He also frequently collaborated with Kylián, Ek and Ohad Naharin, a former dancer who had become a choreographer of international repute, Jean-Christophe Maillot and Stephen Thoss.
In an era when most contemporary ballet companies presented mixed programs, Pankov added a new dimension to Les Grands' programs by commissioning evening-length story ballets like Canadian Peter Quanz’s Rodin, Claudel and Brandstrup's Queen of Spades. Under Pankov, Les Grands became a resolutely contemporary ballet company,ceasing to dance all classics except an annual Nutcracker. Pankov reasoned that his 35-member company was too small to do justice to the classics, which generally require casts twice that size. Instead he invited the world’s major classical companies to Montréal to perform on Les Grands’ subscription series. These included the Paris Opera Ballet, which danced Paquita in 2015 on a visit that was 13-years in the making, Russia’s Perm Ballet, the Ukrainian National Ballet, the Cuban National Ballet and the Shanghai Ballet.
Gradimir Pankov reshaped Les Grands into a starless troupe of young and versatile dancers chosen for their personalities as much as their technique, touring them extensively from Tel Aviv and Mexico City to Beijing. A New York Times critic said that he had caused a "revolution" in Montréal. One of his proudest moments came in 2008 when his company performed in Paris for the first time in 30 years. Another source of pride came in 2010, his 10th anniversary with the company, when he received his Canadian citizenship at the opening of one of the company's seasons.
In 1995, Pankov received an honorary diploma from the Lodz Ballet Festival in Poland. He was featured in A Summer of Dance, a television film directed by Québec cibematographer and director Stéphanie Weber-Biron that commemorated Les Grands' week-long performance showcase in Paris in 2008. He received two honours from his native Macedonia: the Menada Award from the Skopje Dance Festival; and the Best Promotion of Macedonia and Lifetime Achievement Award of 2011, granted by the media consortium, Macedonia Loves You, in 2012. In 2014, he received the Royal Bank of Canada Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Award and the same year was VIP laureate of the Belgrade Dance Festival.
Honouring his legacy and his 18 years at the the helm of Les Grands, Gradimir Pankov was made company artistic director emeritus on his retirement in 2017.