Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Royal Winnipeg Ballet

General information
Name Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Previous names
  • Winnipeg Ballet
  • Winnipeg Ballet Club
Year founded 1939
Founding choreographers Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally
Location Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada Canada
Principal venue Centennial Concert Hall
Senior staff
Company Manager David Warburton
Director of Company Operations Chris Turyk
Artistic staff
Artistic Director Andre Lewis
Ballet Master in Chief Johnny Chang (Zhang-Wei Qiang)
Ballet Master Jaime Vargas
Ballet Mistress
  • Tara Birtwhistle
  • Vanessa Lawson
  • Caroline Gruber
Music Director Tadeusz Biernacki
Orchestra Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Official school Royal Winnipeg Ballet School
Formation Principal
First Soloist
Second Soloist
Corps de Ballet

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is one of the world's premier dance companies. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, it is Canada's oldest ballet company and the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America.[1][2]


From left to right: Amanda Green, Yosuke Mino, and Vanessa Lawson

It was founded in 1939 as the "Winnipeg Ballet Club" by Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally. The name was changed to the "Winnipeg Ballet" in 1941 and the company began touring Canada in 1945. In 1948, with the initiative of the Winnipeg Ballet, the Canadian Ballet Festival was formed.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet was granted its royal title in 1953, the first granted under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It completed its first American tour in 1954. In June that year the RWB's rented premises were devastated by fire; the company's entire stock of costumes, original music, choreographic scores and sets was destroyed. Conductor Eric Wild served as the company's music director from 1955 to 1962.

The company solidified its reputation under the artistic directorship of Saskatchewan-born Arnold Spohr from 1958 to 1988. Spohr, who first joined the company as a dancer in 1945, during his tenure maintained a strong focus on developing Canadian talent, and, at the same time, he developed the RWB as an international touring company, and actively engaged with choreographers and dancers from around the world to expand the ballet.[3]

Spohr was succeeded by RWB principal dancer Henny Jurriëns who was formerly assistant to Dutch National Ballet director Rudi van Dantzig.[4] Jurriëns, however, died in a car accident in April 1989.[4] In 1990 John Meehan from American Ballet Theatre became artistic director but left in 1993 following the company's persistent financial difficulties.[4] William Whitener, formerly the artistic director of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, was chosen to succeed Meehan. Continuing financial problems and dancer "unrest", Whitener was released in less than two years later.[4]

André Lewis was appointed in 1996 as artistic director. Lewis' decades-long association with the RWB began in 1975 when he was accepted into the Professional Division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. In 1979, he was asked to join the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company and enjoyed an accomplished career as a dancer with the RWB until 1990. Lewis' signature roles include: Gunther in Nutcracker; Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet; and Jamie Paul in The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. Company Music Director and Conductor is Tad Biernacki and Senior Ballet Master is Johnny W. Chang.

The dancer most associated with the RWB has been Evelyn Hart; it also included many other notable dancers including Mikhail Baryshnikov.[5] Born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1956, Hart made her professional debut with the RWB in 1976. In 1980, she was awarded the bronze medal at the World Ballet Concours in Japan, and the gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition where she also received the Exceptional Artistic Achievement Award. Both medals were awarded for her performance of Belong pas de deux, created by internationally acclaimed choreographer Norbert Vesak as part of his work What To Do Till the Messiah Comes. Hart was awarded the Order of Canada in 1983. She left the RWB in 2005. David Peregrine, Hart's long-time partner, joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as a member of the corps in 1975 and became a soloist three years later and principal dancer in 1980 – the year he and Hart triumphed in Varna. Peregrine was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1986.[6]

In 1992, Gweneth Lloyd, co-founder of the company, became the first recipient of the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.[7]

The company spends 20 or more weeks a year on the road, presenting more than 100 performances every year in centres large and small. The company also mounts four productions a year in Winnipeg's premier performing arts venue, the Centennial Concert Hall.

Royal Winnipeg Ballet School

Royal Winnipeg Ballet building, 380 Graham Avenue

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, Professional Division is an exclusive, full-time classical ballet training program for students in grades 6 through 12. The school includes approximately 72 young dancers, selected from around the world, and graduates have international careers in top companies in Canada and abroad. The current building opened in January, 1988.

David Lee Moroni, a former principal dancer with the RWB, headed the company's professional training program from 1970 to 2003.[8] Moroni's notable students included: Evelyn Hart, David Peregrine, André Lewis, Tara Birtwhistle, and Jennifer Welsman. In 1990 Moroni received the Order of Canada.[9]

From 2003 onward, Arlene Minkhorst has been the Director of the school, and Jacqueline Weber has been the Director of the Professional Division.


In 2002, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's interpretation of the story of Dracula, choreographed by Mark Godden, was filmed in a made for television titled Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary directed by Guy Maddin. The film eventually was released theatrically. Godden, who became the RWB's first choreographer in residence in 1991, has created several other major works for the company, including: Angels in the Architecture; Dame Aux Fruits; A Darkness Between Us; Shepherd's Wake; and Svengali

Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet is the first organization to present a theatrical or dance production of the works of Leonard Cohen. During the RWB tenure of Artistic Director Arnold Spohr (1958–1988), in Summer 1970, Brian Macdonald choreographed The Shining People of Leonard Cohen which debuted in Paris. Later, that July, it’s staged at Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa – with eclectic band Lighthouse opening the show.[10]

In 2002, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet commissioned "highly sought after American choreographer Val Caniparoli" for the first full-length ballet, entitled Val Caniparoli's A Cinderella Story [11] using the music of composer Richard Rodgers. "The story was familiar, yet original; the choreography sleek, yet classical; the music, a fresh-sounding amalgam of jazz riffs and swirls, based on the themes of one vintage composer. And it is the belle of the ball".[12]

In May 2012, the company presented the World Premiere of The Doorway - Scenes from Leonard Cohen, a contemporary dance piece based on the words and music of Cohen, choreographed by Jorden Morris. Morris' previous works for the RWB include the highly successful full-length classical ballet Peter Pan (2006) and Moulin Rouge - The Ballet (2009 premiere). In this newest ballet, consisting of five vignettes, Cohen's recorded songs and interviews blend with live music. Hallelujah is performed by musician Allison Crowe (voice and piano) and dancers Sophia Lee and Jo-Ann Sundermeier alternating dates.[13] In November 2012 the RWB toured The Doorway to great acclaim with three live song performances by Crowe.[14][15]


Dancers in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's 2015-2016 season include:[16]


  • Canada Dmitri Dovgoselets
  • China Liang Xing

  • Canada Amanda Green

  • Canada Sophia Lee

  • United States Jo-Ann Sundermeier


  • Japan Yayoi Ban

  • Japan Yosuke Mino

Second Soloists

  • Canada Sarah Davey
  • Canada Alanna McAdie

  • Canada Tristan Dobrowney
  • United States Josh Reynolds

  • Canada Kostyantyn Keshyshev
  • Moldova Egor Zdor

  • Canada Elizabeth Lamont

Corps de Ballet

  • Canada Katie Bonnell
  • Brazil Thiago Dos Santos
  • United States Stephan Possin
  • Hong Kong Sarah Yeung

  • Canada Liam Caines
  • Japan Yoshiko Kamikusa
  • Brazil Luzemberg Santana

  • Canada Tyler Carver
  • China Chenxin Liu
  • Japan Manami Tsubai

  • Canada Jaimi Deleau
  • Canada Anna O'Callaghan
  • United States Ryan Vetter


  • Canada Philippe Larouche
  • United States Amy Chieko Young

  • Canada Jesse Petrie

  • China Yue Shi

  • Japan Saeka Shirai

See also


  1. JENNIFER GOLDBERG. "10 Attractions That Make Canada Great". Reader's Digest. Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  2. "Harper Government Commemorates National Historic Significance of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet". Government of Canada. 23 December 2014. Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  3. "Arnold Spohr, 86, Leader Of Royal Winnipeg Ballet: Obituary", The New York Times, 22 April 2010. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 KATHERINE CORNELL, MAX WYMAN (3 April 2015). "Royal Winnipeg Ballet". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2015-06-13.
  6. David Peregrine, Order of Canada
  7. "Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards: Homegrown heroes", The Ottawa Citizen, 2 May 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  8. Moroni gala planned, Excerpt from Winnipeg Free Press, 19 May 2004
  9. Order of Canada citation
  10. "Winnipeg Ballet draws the young: With Lighthouse's help", The Montreal Gazette, 29 July 1970. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  11. "RWB star Wright retiring 'on high note'". Winnipeg Free Press. 23 June 2007.
  12. "Rodgers and Hammerstein". Latest News. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  13. "Leonard Cohen's music comes to life at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet", CBC News, 9 May 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  14. "RWB technique, emotion dazzle in Halifax return", Chronicle Herald, 8 November 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  15. "A royal treat", The Guardian, 16 November 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  16. "Dancers". Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
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