1935-1947 and the return to Canada

My return to Canada in 1948 had a mix of good and bad feelings.I would see my family, my home city and a group of familiar dancers. BUT!

I had for almost two years, been earning a living as a dancer, I had been working with professional dancers and choreographers, I was a touring dancer.

None of the above would happen to me in Canada.

There was not a company that paid the dancers in 1948.

There were several companies, but none that would support my needs.

Still, I really had no choice in the matter.

Military service did not come to mind as an alternative. If I stayed in Britain, that was exactly what I faced. No Thank You!!

October 4 was my arrival date back in Canada.

Through correspondence with Gweneth Lloyd, everything had been arranged.

I was to stage and perform–Swan Lake Act 2 pas de deux with Jean McKenzie, Spectre de la Rose with Margaret Hample, plus, learn and dance the Popular Song in the Gweneth Lloyd choreography for Façade.

The performances were scheduled for October 8 and 9, I landed in Montreal on October 4.

Not much time, so we got down to it soon after my arrival.

There was of course, meeting family after a two year break.

Family had moved since my departure. They were now in a 15 room house on three acres of land, 25 miles from Winnipeg. I will return to that matter in a moment, but first, the dance.

I had never performed the Swan Lake pas de deux but know it well. Spectre de la Rose had become part of my repertoire in the Metropolitan Ballet.

Another interesting aspect was, my last ballet class had taken place in London on September 23. I needed a ballet class, apart from everything else.

Jean and I began work on the Swan Lake immediately. It took very little time actually, she was a quick learn.

Spectre was not very complicated so also went quickly.

I had seen the Façade piece with the Winnipeg company, and had performed in other parts of the ballet, but not the Popular Song.

Learning it was something that we were quite used to in Winnipeg . I got the 78rpm record out of the files and the notes for the choreography from Miss Lloyd. I learned the choreography from the notes.

Costumes of course.

Cindy the wardrobe lady had made many costumes for me in the past, so had no trouble coming up with something new for this occasion.

Miss Lloyd had acquired the necessary 78rpm records for the performances.

So, we did it, and David Adams, Guest Artist, was well received by the Winnipeg audiences..The press liked me as well.

Back in the country and that mansion the family had moved into, the logistics of moving to the city and the country had to take place.

A bus that just happened to pick up just outside the studio in Winnipeg, took me to Little Britain in the country. A walk through the bush took me to the house.

Three floors, fifteen rooms. Glassed in porches at the front of the house on two floors. A glassed in solarium at the back of the house on the second floor.

My own bedroom on the second floor with a view of the driveway.

A huge living room, with a fireplace that I could stand upright in.

An equally large dinning room.

Two kitchens, one with all of the electrical appliances, and a second kitchen with a wood stove. A pantry and a second pantry down the stairs to the basement.

A huge entry doorway which led to the living room and the staircase to the second floor.

The whole main floor was wood panelling, a dark wood.

After the house that I had left in 1946, which was built in 1941, this was quite unbelievable.

I kept finding new places, new rooms, new cupboards, it was endless.

Outside was equally impressive. Large lawns that had to be cut with a push mower, an orchard with plums and crab apple trees.

75 feet of lilac bushes, eight feet tall.

A garage, plus a chicken coop, with chickens,and three geese.

No vegetable garden as yet.Asparagus growing almost everywhere. During the summer each evening meal had asparagus on the menu.

The trees on the property had obviously been there for many years and were large and lush.

It took me some time to take in all that was there. It is filled with a very long list of very good memories.

Dues to financial problems, my family eventually had to sell it, which to this day hurts me. My only consolation is that I now live on three acres of land, not in a 15 room house, but I am very happy with what I have.

After the performance in Winnipeg I became once more a member of the company.

Miss Lloyd approached me to teach classes for the company, for which I would be paid, so things improved slightly.

I was also to enlarge upon my repertoire in the company.

It was quite amazing to find myself dancing a principal role in a ballet where I had originally danced the part of a child.

In Alice I had originally been the hero who kills the Jaberwocky,in this period I danced the White Knight.

In Finishing School I was originally the Valet de Chambre, now I was to be the principal male role, The Dancing Master.

From child to adult in the same ballets.

As well as the two items I staged for the Gala, I eventually staged the Bluebird pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty and the third act pas de deux for the prince and princess in Sleeping Beauty.

There is an aspect of this that to this day annoys me. These were the first moments from the classical ballet repertoire that the Winnipeg Ballet had at their disposal, and I introduced them.

A reasonably well known writer has reported these happenings as “ introducing snippets of the classical repertoire to the Winnipeg Ballet.

Snippets indeed!

These were the first dances from the classical repertoire to be performed by the Winnipeg Ballet.

Yes, I know they are now called the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and they perform most of the well known classics, but, I introduced them to the classics, way back then, in 1948. I have yet to see that fact in print.

As the normal change to winter began on the 31st of October, that year we were right on track, in other words I came home to really quite pleasant weather.

My Mother arranged a party to be held on the acreage. People from the Winnipeg Ballet, but also friends from the past. There was even a school teacher from my last year at school. Mrs. Bartholemew had known me over quite an extended period of time, earlier grades as well.

With all of that space outside and the large house, we had a great time. Stella, my mother, even came up with Rye and Ginger Ale, which for a teetotal person was quite amazing. The driveway was filled with cars, exactly how many, has long gone from the memory bank.

There were many tales to tell.

Finally, right on cue, October 31st brought winter, and a very typical winter for that period in history. A lot of snow, and cold temperatures.

One night after a busy rehearsal schedule in Winnipeg, I caught the last Selkirk bus to the family home in the country. It was very cold, minus 40 F, and a lot of snow.

The walk from the highway to the house was about half of a mile through the woods. I was dressed for the cold, but not minus 40.

As I began the walk through the woods, the sound of the bus faded into the distance, then, there was silence-yet, there was sound-not made by human means. A swishing, then a crackling sound. I looked to the sky and saw the source. Aurora Borealis, Northern lights.

The sky was alive with movement and colour. It was all moving across the vast black sky at an incredible speed. The full colour spectrum was there above my head, and that eerie sound.

I stood there transfixed, oblivious to the cold.

This was not new to me, I seen displays like this before, as a child.

As I stood there watching and admiring nature in one of her spectacular moments, I knew that for the time being at any rate, I needed to be in Canada. Where else could I experience anything like this.

By the time I reached the house, everyone was in bed. My watch told me that I had stood there in the cold for half an hour. It took time to get my body back to a normal temperature, but my mind had been cleared of one part of my doubts.

For the time being at least, I would stay.

It took 13 years before my return to that spiritual home, the British Isles.

When you are born to the cold, you can deal with it, if not, it can be unbearable.

Gweneth Lloyd opened a door for me that took many years before it closed.

Teaching pas d deux and variations from the classical repertoire was one thing, but teaching was not something that had crossed my mind during the journey from Britain to Canada.

Once I began, a whole new perspective came into focus.

I began by emulating the teachers I had studied with in London, but then it went far beyond that.

The classical ballet technique has endless possibilities, there are no boundaries.

The dancer sometimes takes this all for granted, not thinking of structure in a class.

I began to see these elements the more I taught.

Teaching, the basis of my life work in fact gradually became the central thrust.

1948 introduced me to teaching ballet, 1999 ended that period in my life.

After 51 years of teaching, I finally hung up my ballet shoes.

There was a great deal going on during the first 30 years of that time. As well as being a teacher, I was also a full time performer.

Both??? Yes, for after 1948 I worked with many companies. In all cases I became a teacher as well as a performer.

Yes, even the Royal Ballet, where I taught in the Royal Ballet School as well as performing with the company.

After those initial performances back in Winnipeg, news of a tour was announced. We were to perform in London, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.

Some of my classics were to be performed, plus I would learn and perform inChapter 13, a Lloyd ballet.

There was a problem with the music. Ira Gershwin, brother of George, would not allow the company to perform the score as a ballet.

Robert Fleming was asked to do a rewrite. Every bar would be there, but with different notes.

The ballet, with the new score, was performed in Toronto at the Eaton Auditorium. We began together, and ended together, all the counts were exactly the same.

I have often wondered what happened to that score, it was good.

I had not been able to perform the Bluebird pas de deux at the Winnipeg gala, but we were to dance it on this tour.

The score was late in arriving.

At one scheduled performance, with no score available, an announcement was made by David Yeddeau.

“Ladies and gentlemen, at this point in the program, we usually have a little pas de deux, to give the other dancers a rest, that pas de deux will not be performed tonight.”

Little pas de deux indeed!! David was not pleased, and demanded an apology. That was not forthcoming, I threatened to go home, I stayed.

Eventually I would use it as an excuse to leave.

We eventually did the Bluebird pas de deux on that tour. The critic did not want to compare us with other dancers that had performed the pas de deux, so said nothing.

No luck with that pas de deux.

Ottawa we had seen back in 1945, but London, Montreal and Toronto were new territory. Little did I know how often I would perform in those cities a few years down the road.

I enjoyed the contrast of the English speaking and the French speaking cultures.

This time, while in Ottawa, I discovered Hull.

I enjoyed the food on the French side.

If you had told me that I would end up living for over ten years in Toronto, I would not have believed you.

That is a story yet to come.

Back in 1948, teaching opened another door which had been ajar for some time,

Choreography

This side of my profession had surfaced before I went to Britain, but had not been consummated.

For me, these two things go hand in hand.

I started listening for music to use for a ballet.

I finally found something that I felt I could deal with. Something that gave me workable images.

I started by following the example of Miss Lloyd, making notes.

This worked up to a point, but was not complete. I needed a hands on approach.

Having an outline in my head, I made my overtures to Miss Lloyd.

My request was granted and thus was born Ballet Composite, my first choreographic work.

Composite became part of the Winnipeg Ballet repertoire.

It even had a short life in the National Ballet in the 50’s.

Six dancers giving Variations on a theme of Hayden, by Brahms, some dance life.

Was I influenced by choreography that I had seen? No! I was influenced by Brahms. He gave me my steps.

Ever after, my choreographic efforts followed this same pattern.

I would either be teaching, or would request having that in the picture. It has something to do with getting the juices going. I would not use the class work in the choreography, in fact I could not search for my choreographic ideas while teaching. The music was always the source, it told me what to do.

Musical choice was of course of prime importance, then the theme.

Those combined forces would lead me in to my new work.

I had my vocabulary, and adapted it to my needs.

The process added another dimension to my life as a dancer, not quite as important as my teaching became, but a little bit of sugar on the top.

There were some problems with tempos, the conductor wanted the Brahms influence, I wanted the Hayden influence.

It worked, and was successful.

In 1949 I received a letter from Vancouver, inviting me to perform with the Theatre Under the Stars Company. I would appear in various musicals throughout the summer of 49, as the leading male dancer.

The money was not bad, and I had not seen Western Canada as yet.

I created an argument in Winnipeg, and left.

Another train journey meant that I had covered the Canadian scene, from coast to coast, in less than a year.

Vancouver was warm, and green and friendly.

As I write this in 2003 I have to pause I know that only a few weeks ago, I received an E-Mail telling me that the person I stayed with, in Vancouver, and who was responsible for getting me there, Hugh Pickett, just celebrated his 90th birthday, good for you Hugh

In Vancouver I was to experience a type of theatre that I was aware of, but not first hand.

Theatre Under the Stars was a summer stock theatre. The process was–rehearse a show–perform it, while you rehearsed the next show, and so it went, throughout the summer. Days and nights of rehearsing and performing

The shows? Musical theatre or operetta. Some old, some fairly new.

We had to dance, but also sing on occasion, and even speak, nothing like the life of a ballet dancer.

The style of dance was, well, you name it, we did it. Jazz of that time in history, character dances from different countries. One week I was a gypsy, the next a Russian, the next a suave mover in white tie and tails.

Our choreographer was Aida Broadbent. She was called.,dance and ensemble director. Stage shows and films being her speciality. Los Angeles and San Francisco were her central locations.

After settling in, we began what would be a very busy summer.

Our shows were, Merry Widow–Bloomer Girl–Roberta–Countess Mariza andSong of Norway.

After the way of working in a ballet company, this was something entirely different “no David, relax, this is not a ballet!” An entirely different vocabulary, and a very different way of moving

I got the idea fairly quickly.

In between rehearsals there was a social life with a very new and different group of people.

Most of them had been in these shows before, they were friendly and helpful, some friendships lasted for years.

The shows happened in Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park, in Vancouver. The performers were sheltered by the bowl, the audience was outdoors on folding chairs. Yes it did rain from time to time, but on those occasions the audience received sheets of butcher paper, which is waterproof. They would make hats or whatever, to protect themselves from the rain.

Vancouverites are quite used to the wet weather, the rain did not stop the show.

The dressing rooms and costume rooms were behind the stage, plus a tiny space to do a warmup.

As this all happened 54 years ago, some details have left the memory bank. I wish that I could say that I made copious notes and kept a big diary, but, when I think of the number of shows I have done, the number of places I have danced in, the number of people I have met and worked with? Sorry, what this aging memory has; is what you get.

Not only did I have a home, with Hugh Pickett, but a chauffeur and a social life, it was quite amazing.

The “kids” as I must call my fellow dancers, and I would rehearse, do shows and socialize together. We had our favourite eating establishments near the rehearsal hall; which was the Marine Building.

We had a large room in that building with a view of Vancouver harbour and the North Shore.

After lunch walks took us various places, but on one occasion we met a group of young women. The dancers in our show, knew them. Much with the greetings and hugs.

These were dancers from the road show of Oklahoma, home for a holiday.

I was introduced.

One of them caught my eye. I was in no way attached at that time.

Her name was Lois, one of the “Smith girls”.

Little by little we saw each other a fair number of times. Little by little we talked more.

In between rehearsals I discovered that she was quite a good ballet dancer, so I started teaching her bits of classical ballets, pas de deux. We tried a few lifts.

Then, one day we caught ourselves looking at each other in a different way.

There was the first kiss at a beach party, and it went from there.

The last show of the season was to be Song of Norway, with music by Edvard Grieg.

This show has a ballet at the end of the show, to the Grieg piano concerto.

Aida Broadbent had seen what was going on between Lois and I;and agreed that we would dance in that ballet together.

A dance partnership began that would go on until 1964.

A marriage then a friendship which has lasted until this time

To clarify that statement.—–I have remarried;and have a second child, there was a child with Lois as well. I am father to two girls, quite an age difference.

The season was busy, but going well. I received very good press for my Russian dance in Roberta.

When Song of Norway arrived, with Lois Smith, the press was even better, standing ovation time.

The show was taken to Victoria for an additional season

With TUTS at an end, I had to find a place to live, or return to Winnipeg, I decided to stay, for Lois had become an important part of my life.

What to do next?

I even auditioned for Oklahoma when it came to town, that did not really work out.

Lois had decided that she was going to stay in Vancouver.

I had to work, but so did Lois.

I began teaching for Mara McBirney, in the same studio that TUTS had rehearsed in.

It was a very amicable arrangement, just not very much money.

I found a place to live, $5.00 per week, which left me $5.00 to eat with.

Rough times, so other work had to be found.

My publicity with TUTS helped me with contacts so I began doing nightclub work.

There was my built it partner, Lois.

We did a whole series of numbers for that medium.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were my example. I had seen all of the films, so used the style, not necessarily the actual steps.

We did add some thing that Astaire could not do, big overhead lifts, they went over well with the audiences.

At one point we were asked to do a show for the Shriners. What to do?? Why not an Indian from India dance, all those hand signs.

I found a book on the subject, and choreographed a very complicated dance to some Indian music. It was an enormous success and we were asked to repeat it for the ladies as well.

One thing led to another. My Russian costume from Roberta was borrowed and I did Russian dances in the night clubs.

We certainly did not make a fortune, but it all helped keep the wolf from the door.

There were classes for me to teach each day, so once more I was very busy.

At the McBirney studio there was a group of regular students, so I began choreographing ballets for them. Two of those ballet went to Montreal in 1950 for the Third Canadian Ballet Festival, Theorem A and L’Auberge Deranger.

A letter arrived for Lois which was addressed to me also, an invitation to go to Los Angeles to appear with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company.

We could not refuse such an offer, and so made plans to go by train to California.