Rachel Browne | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Rachel Browne

Browne danced with the RWB from 1957 until 1961, when she retired as a ballerina to care for her young family. She soon began to teach ballet classes at the Lhotka School of Ballet and to choreograph.
Rachel Browne
Browne played a formative, pioneering role in the development of modern dance in Canada (photo by David Cooper).

Rachel Browne

 Rachel Browne, dancer, choreographer, teacher (born Ray Minkoff at Philadelphia, Pa, 6 Nov 1934; died at Ottawa 9 June 2012). Rachel Browne founded WINNIPEG'S CONTEMPORARY DANCERS (1964) and the associated School for Contemporary Dancers (1972). Her early dance training was in ballet and, on graduating from high school, she moved to New York City to train with teachers including Robert Joffrey, Edward Caton and Benjamin Harkarvy. Harkarvy became her mentor and in 1957, when he became artistic director of the ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET, she accompanied him.

Browne danced with the RWB from 1957 until 1961, when she retired as a ballerina to care for her young family. She soon began to teach ballet classes at the Lhotka School of Ballet and to choreograph. Her first choreography, Odetta's Songs and Dances (1964), marked a transition from a classical aesthetic to an earthy, modern sensibility.

Drawn by her desire to dance and choreograph, in 1964 Rachel Browne started a dance troupe known as the Contemporary Dancers. Within a few years the new troupe had gained a significant place in Winnipeg's artistic life. Browne began to make yearly trips to New York, studying Limón and Graham techniques and acquiring repertory for her young company. During the troupe's early years Browne juggled her own desire to perform with choreography, teaching, organization and fund-raising and administration for the company.

Throughout the 1970s Browne worked to consolidate the success of the Contemporary Dancers, which, by 1970, was a fully professional troupe receiving Canada Council grants. As well as performing works by well-known US choreographers including Cliff Keuter, James Waring and Dan Wagoner, under Rachel Browne's direction the company became an important commissioner of new Canadian choreographers, including Anna Blewchamp, Judith MARCUSE, Jennifer MASCALL, Paula Ravitz and Linda Rabin. Through workshops, Browne encouraged company members to make dances. Several notable choreographers emerged, among them Conrad Alexandrowicz, Stephanie BALLARD, Ruth Cansfield, Gaile Petursson-Hiley and Tedd Robinson. During this time Browne continued to choreograph for the company, usually producing about one dance a year. Significant works from this period include The Woman I Am (1975), made with musician Paul Horn and the poetry of Dorothy LIVESAY, and Interiors (1976).

Early in 1983 Rachel Browne resigned as artistic director of the Contemporary Dancers, although she retained her ties with the company through difficult scenarios with succeeding directors. She variously acted as a fund-raiser, teacher and advisor. Acknowledged as its founding artistic director, she enjoyed a cordial, active relationship with the company and school as a choreographer, advisor and board member.

In the mid-1980s, Browne launched into a new phase of her career as a choreographer, performer and teacher. Her work underwent radical change and was noted for its spare, feminist resonance. Important transitional works included Mouvement (1992), Toward Light (1995) and Edgelit (1996), created with composer Ann Southam. Later works included the intergenerational duet Flowering (2005) and Variations on Serenity (2006) with music by Southam. Active with her ongoing project Older Women Dance, Browne continued to be fascinated by dance creation, and was a teacher and mentor to many younger dancers.

In 1995 Browne received the Jean A. Chalmers Award for Creativity in Dance. In honour of her many achievements - as a ballet dancer, modern dancer, teacher, award-winning choreographer of a significant body of works, artistic director, founder of Contemporary Dancers in 1964 and of the School of Contemporary Dancers in 1972 - Rachel Browne was awarded the ORDER OF CANADA in 1997. Her biography, Dancing Toward the Light, by Carol Anderson, was published in 1999. Browne was the recipient of the 2000 Canada Council Jacqueline Lemieux Prize and the 2001 Manitoba Arts Council Great-West Life Lifetime Achievement Award.

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