Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers

 Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers is Canada's longest operating modern dance company. WCD, a company of about 10 dancers, traces its roots to a student group formed in 1964 by former ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET dancer Rachel BROWNE. It was recognized as fully professional by 1971.

Rachel Browne
Browne played a formative, pioneering role in the development of modern dance in Canada (photo by David Cooper).

Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers

Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers is Canada's longest operating modern dance company. WCD, a company of about 10 dancers, traces its roots to a student group formed in 1964 by former Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancer Rachel Browne. It was recognized as fully professional by 1971. Under Browne's leadership WCD functioned as a modern dance repertory company, performing works by her as well as by a diverse range of Canadian and foreign choreographers. WCD's wide-ranging repertoire and extensive touring played an important role in educating Canadian audiences about modern dance and in developing a receptive market for innovative contemporary choreography.

By the early 1980s, however, the emergence of other contemporary companies meant that the Canadian dance landscape had greatly changed, and the appeal of a modern dance repertory troupe such as WCD slowly diminished. Browne was ousted as artistic director in 1983 in what amounted to a palace revolt, but in varying degrees she has subsequently been able to maintain a productive connection with the company.

American choreographer Bill Evans was director for the 1983-84 season. Tedd Robinson, who was director from 1984 to 1990, shifted the company away from its repertory base towards a more avant-garde style of dance-theatre in keeping with his own choreographic interests. The appointment of Charles Moulton as Robinson's successor in 1990 ushered in a period of almost catastrophic financial and artistic turmoil. The company's survival seemed in doubt, but with temporary help from Browne and Arnold Spohr, the WCD regrouped successfully under the direction of Tom Stroud in 1991. Stroud shifted the company's aesthetic focus towards a more expressionistic style of dance-theatre, and regained for WCD the credibility it partially lost during its years of transition. In 2005 the company went in-house to appoint veteran dancer Brent Lott as artistic director. Lott understood the needs of dancers as well as what Winnipeg audiences wanted to see, and revitalized the organization.

In 2008 the company rededicated its venue as The Rachel Browne Theatre in honour of its founder. At the age of 73 the matriarch of Winnipeg's modern dance scene performed at the renaming ceremony. In 2009, as a result of the prudent financial guidance imposed by Lott's leadership, the company was able to retire its accumulated deficit entirely.