The Festival des Arts Saint-Sauveur was launched as the Festival des Arts Hiawatha by Montréal businessman Lou Gordon in summer 1992 and took its current name in in 1997. The mandate of this festival is to support the creation of and promote the arts of dance and music by presenting performances featuring top-calibre local and international artists. The festival targets a wide audience and thus constitutes an important cultural institution that attempts to make dance and music accessible to all.
In summer 1992, the Festival des Arts Hiawatha got off to a big start in its first season, offering three weeks of dance and music performances that included the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and such top names in the dance world as Anik Bissonnette, Louis Robitaille and Margie Gillis. The festival’s first three seasons were such a success with audiences that as it hosted its summer 1996 season, it began to broaden its horizons. In summer 1997, as its cultural impact far exceeded the limits of its new location, the Festival des arts de Saint-Sauveur began its new adventure under its new name. Inside a new 450-seat festival tent, its artists, artisans, dancers, and musicians welcomed an audience of over 15,000 that season. Flush with this success, the following year, the festival took place in an air-conditioned, 700-seat tent. Ever since, the festival has continued to receive high praise. It has become a top quality, can’t-miss cultural event, by virtue both of the renowned dancers and musicians who grace its stage and the way that it makes the performing arts accessible to the general public.
The festival expresses this spirit of public outreach through the free shows that it presents on its big outdoor stage, as well as through its youth and children’s programming and the pre-performance talks that let audiences learn more about the dance companies that they will be seeing and the works that will be performed. Another initiative much appreciated by audiences is that after each performance, they can meet and talk with the choreographer and the dancers and musicians.
Since its earliest beginnings, the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur has hosted numerous star dancers and renowned dance companies, such as the Danse Théâtre de Montréal, the St. Petersburg Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the José Greco Flamenco Dance Company, the Hungarian National Ballet, and the Kirov Ballet. Audiences at the Kirov’s performances were enraptured by its star ballerina, the divine Diana Vishneva.
In 2001, the festival hosted the Canadian premiere of the Complexions Contemporary Ballet from New York City, a troupe of 22 star dancers from the greatest American dance companies. In 2003, it was the National Theatre Ballet of Prague’s turn to wow festival audiences. In 2005, famed Canadian dancer Annick Bissonnette became the festival’s artistic director. That was also the Year of China, and to celebrate it, the festival presented the North American premiere of China’s Guangzhou Ballet Troupe. In 2006, Anik Bissonnette’s ballet Kylian le grand was presented at the festival to great success and critical acclaim. (It subsequently toured Québec and the rest of Canada.) In 2007, the energetic Rubberbandance Group took the festival stage. And in 2011, to celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and 3e étage (a troupe of dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet) gave performances that left the festival’s loyal audiences in awe.
Over the years, a wide range of singers, instrumental soloists, and vocal and instrumental ensembles have graced the stages of the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, in all kinds of concerts and other performances. The festival has hosted The Canadian Brass, the Orchestre métropolitain, the Ensemble Amati, the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, students from the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute, and many others from many different countries. Other notable Canadian musical ensembles that have appeared at the festival include Les Violons du Roy and I Musici. In 2008, the festival presented the concert version of the musical comedy Le Petit Roi. Opera singer Gino Quilico and jazz pianist Oliver Jones have also performed at the festival, as has the Chicago Children's Choir.
In 1997, to encourage and recognize musical creativity, the festival launched its International Musical Composition and Choreography Competition. The winners of that first year’s competition received their awards at a ceremony the following year.
The Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur has won the Grand Prix du Tourisme des Laurentides (Festivals and Events Category) twice, in 2006 and 2007. It has also received the 2009 Prix Ambassadeur culturel des Laurentides, in recognition of the quality of its programming and its support for creative artists.