Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Les

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens ("de Montréal" was added to the company title in February 2000) is noted for a diverse repertoire that has emphasized the creation of new works while also including a number of traditional 19th-century story-ballets and 20th-century classics. Although the company's artistic profile has fluctuated according to the tastes and preferences of a succession of artistic directors, overall its repertoire has emphasized short works in a neoclassical or contemporary, cross-over ballet/modern dance style.

The company was founded by Ludmilla CHIRIAEFF in 1958 as a troupe of 16 dancers. It evolved from Chiriaeff's earlier dance activities in Montréal, where she had settled after emigrating from Europe in 1952. Her first ballets were created for the acclaimed CBC French Network TV program L'Heure du concert. Her company, Les Ballets Chiriaeff, began giving live public performances in 1954, despite opposition from the conservative Catholic Church in Québec, whose priesthood viewed ballet as immoral. Chiriaeff had established her first school in 1952 and, in 1958, the Académie des grands ballets canadiens was established to prepare dancers for the emerging company. In 1970 this organization evolved into l'École supérieure de danse du Québec to provide professional training for advanced students. After relinquishing her position as artistic director of the company in 1974, Chiriaeff directed the schools until ill health forced her retirement in 1992.

Brian MACDONALD was artistic director of the company from 1974 to 1978. From 1978 to 1985 Les GBC was directed by a committee made up of ballet mistress Linda Stearns, répétiteur Daniel Jackson and director general Colin McIntyre. McIntyre left in 1984 and from 1985 to 1987 Jeanne RENAUD joined Linda Stearns as co-artistic director. Renaud left in December 1987 and Stearns remained as sole artistic director. McIntyre returned as director general from March 1988 to August 1992. The respected American dancer and teacher Lawrence Rhodes was artistic director from August 1989 until late 1999, when he was succeeded by the Macedonian-born dancer, teacher and director, Gradimir Pankov.

Throughout its existence, Les Grands Ballets (now reduced to about 35 dancers) has had a remarkable record of commissioning original works, a large proportion of them choreographed, composed and designed by Canadians. In the early years Chiriaeff choreographed many ballets. Important contributions to the repertoire have been made by such Canadian choreographers as Fernand NAULT, Brydon PAIGE, Brian MacDonald and James KUDELKA, who was resident choreographer from 1984 to 1990.

From 1970 to 1972 the company acquired international renown with Nault's popular dance adaptation of Tommy, the rock-opera by the British group The Who. The company has also accumulated a diverse repertoire representative of the best in traditional and contemporary ballet and modern dance, performing works by such renowned choreographers as John Butler, Lar Lubovitch, Hans van Manen, Nacho Duato and Paul Taylor. It has also built a notable collection of ballets by the Russia-American master George Balanchine and significant works revived from the era of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, among them Petrouchka, La Chatte and L'Après-midi d'un faune.

For a period in the mid-1980s the company's repertoire veered towards modern-dance choreography, leading some critics to claim that the troupe was losing contact with its classical ballet roots. Since then the company has re-asserted its classical base, but among Canada's 3 big ballet troupes, it still projects the most progressive and experimental image.

Les Grands Ballets has toured extensively throughout Canada, the US, Europe, Latin and South America and Asia. In 1984 it was the first Canadian ballet company invited to perform in China.

Since the arrival of Pankov as artistic director a new emphasis has been placed on full-length story ballets, such as Didy Veldman's Carmen (2000), Kim Brandstrup's commissioned work, The Queen of Spades (2001) and Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet (2004). By updating or treating familiar themes with a distinctly contemporary sensibility and modern staging technology, these ballets have helped Les GBC win new and younger audiences. Les Grands was the first Canadian company to perform the acclaimed work of Mats Ek of Sweden and has continued to perform the haunting works of Czechoslovakia's illustrious choreographer Jiri Kylian. Pankov's Les Grands Ballets stands out in its commitment to international contemporary choreographers Kim Brandstrup of Denmark, Ohad Naharin of Israel, Mauro Bigonzetti of Italy, and Nacho Duato of Spain. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007.