Louis Robitaille | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Louis Robitaille

Louis Robitaille, dancer (b at Montréal 21 Dec 1957).

Robitaille, Louis

Louis Robitaille, dancer (b at Montréal 21 Dec 1957). A high school dance performance in 1973 launched Louis Robitaille's career when Peter George, physical education teacher and dancer with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, noticed the teenager's aptitude and arranged a scholarship to the company's summer program.

In 1974, at age 16, Robitaille joined la Compagnie de danse Eddy Toussaint (later Ballet de Montréal), where he danced and studied under a variety of teachers including ballet masters Olga Merinova and William Griffith.

Outstanding for his blonde good looks and fine body proportions, as well as for a kind of untamed wildness in his dancing, Robitaille became a Québec icon - personified by his interpretation of the legend of Alexis le Trotteur. By 1978 Les Grands Ballets Canadiens had chosen the relatively inexperienced dancer for the title role in Thomas Hoving's Icare, part of its 20th anniversary program.

With partner Anik Bissonnette, Robitaille achieved greater acclaim. They danced together in competition for the first time at the Helsinki International Festival (1984), dancing Toussaint's Un Simple Moment and winning a gold medal for the choreographer. Although they were Québec's "dance darlings" of the 1980s, they also travelled to Europe, the United States and Australia, making guest appearances at the Spoletto Festival in Italy and France's Toulouse Ballet.

Robitaille joined Les Grands Ballets Canadiens as a principal dancer in 1989, dancing L'Après Midi d'un Faune the first season. Between 1990 and his departure in 1996, he added 35 roles to his repertoire in works by choreographers such as Limon, Balanchine, Tudor, Fokine, Dolin, Duato, Kylian and Forsythe.

In 1994 Robitaille became artistic director of the Jeune Ballet du Québec and founded a small chamber ballet group, Bande à Part. With Bissonnette he founded Danse-Théâtre de Montréal in 1995. He was appointed artistic director of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal in 1998.

From this position he reoriented the company, changing its name to the hip bjm_danse, presenting it as more contemporary than jazz and initiating fusions with theatre, circus, visual arts and new music. While pushing dancers to go beyond even Ballets Jazz standards of high energy and technique, he introduced repertoire with an urgent, youthful appeal by commissioning ballets from international choreographers like Aszure Barton (a former bjm dancer), Crystal Pite (Vancouver) and Rodrigo Pederneiras (Brazil). He also established regular choreography workshops to encourage bjm dancers to hone their dance-making abilities.

Louis Robitaille was awarded the Jacqueline Lemieux Prize in 1994. He was inducted as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1995 and received the National Order of Quebec in 1996.