1950: In preparation

We spent about a month in Vancouver after arriving back from California.

Apart from seeing the Smiths, there was the business of Mara McBirney and the ballets that I had choreographed for her group, which was to be called the Vancouver Production Club.

There had been auditions for the Third Canadian Ballet Festival in Montreal. Two of my works, Theorem A and L’Auberge Deranger had been accepted plus a work by Ruth French called Invitation to the Dance.

The Festival was to be held in Montreal November 20-25 ,1950 at His Majesty’s Theatre.

I spent time in Vancouver rehearsing the two works of mine and teaching for McBirney. Also a bit of catching up on my own technique.

After that month we went on to Winnipeg.

Lois was not due for some time but she had been troubled with morning sickness.

Once more back in that enormous house, we settled in there and I made my overtures back with the Winnipeg Ballet.

Never being content to have just one or two things going, I began working on

Photography, developing, printing and enlarging my own photographs. That all took place on the third floor of the house, assisted by my brother Lawrence.We became quite adept at this, until I found that I was allergic to the chemicals.

I tried rubber gloves, but discovered that one tiny drop of the chemical on any bare skin would create an allergic response. I had to give that all up.

From some newly acquired recordings, ideas about new ballets began coming to me.

The Masquerade waltz was going to be a definite.

Khachaturian was flying around in my head.

For me, the discovery of Darius Milhaud was a genuine twist of fate.

The Nothing Doing Bar, or Le Boeuf sur le toit ,took me by storm, in fact I was to use it three times in my choreographic life.

Based on Brazilian themes, it called for choreography.

The Winnipeg manifestation was called Geschrei, which is a Yiddish word, meaning “everyone talking and making a noise, at the same time”. I can thank my Winnipeg Jewish friends for that name.

The costumes were first gathered from attics with leftovers from the 20’s, then Joseph Chrabas took over the total design of sets and costumes.

Milhaud talked about a Chaplin movie, but I placed the action in a speakeasy, during the 20’s. I had a Chaplin like character, but also other people suggested by the era.

I had flappers, but also a wrestler, an apache couple and silent singer.

But I am ahead of myself.

First I had to deal with the Ballet Festival in Montreal in 1950.

The audiences liked my works, but the press was not terribly complimentary, they did not understand Theorem A, and found L’Auberge, obvious. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

When I arrived in Montreal, there was a note at the hotel for me. Celia Franca was in town and wanted to have lunch with me.

Arrangements were made, and we met.

After the mandatory greeting, we sat down. The first words from Celia were, “I hear that you have become very conceited”.

Charming. We have not seen each other for some time, and that is the introduction to our conversation.

I did know that she had been invited to Canada to look at the condition of ballet, with the idea of forming a National Ballet Company.

With that opening remark hanging in the air, several things went through my head–get up and walk out of the hotel—give her hell for such a remark–or try to bend the conversation to my favour.

I went through the scenario that I have used for many years when talking about my self and my profession.

“Am I conceited, well of course! I can’t go on to the stage and make an apology for being there, I can’t stand in front of a class as a ballet teacher and make an apology for teaching them.

NO!! I have to present a feel of confidence, on stage and in the classroom.

Eventually she came around to my way of thinking; but I knew that there were to be problems.

I spoke in glowing terms of how good the dancers were, in Canada. Yes indeed there was the need for a National Company, and she would be ideal with her background, for the needs of such a company.

Since that day in Montreal, I have used the term–Celia would be ideal to start a company– START.

The ideal situation would be that a Canadian would take over the running of the company.

I truly did not have aspirations for that job, not then, and not later.

Of course we now know the outcome of that story.

One further thing which put me off the whole situation was a letter that I received from Celia a few weeks later, in which she told me that she thought that my dancing had, as she put it “gone off”.

I managed to swallow my pride, and present myself for the opening of the National Ballet of Canada.

I often wonder what would have happened if I had turned down the Toronto offer and stayed with Winnipeg, would I be the director of the Winnipeg Ballet, or would Lois and I have taken up that New York offer of $1000.00 a week to dance in New York and other places. We would have ended up being the Astaire and Rogers of Canada.

The first Canadian Prima Ballerina would have made her name in the commercial world. HA!

Masquerade pas de deux and Geschrei were a great success in 1951 in a series called Ballet in Springtime. Two works by Arnold Spohr and two by Gweneth Lloyd.

My Geschrei was a success,seldom have I heard an audience take to a ballet from curtain up, to the last note of music. Winnipeg loved it.

The amazing thing was that when I went to the studio to begin choreographing it,

I had not a step in my head, just that wonderful music.

There is a beautiful aside to this story.

We were using an orchestra, so we needed a score.

I wrote a letter to Milhaud telling him my concept of the ballet, and asked if he could tell us where to get a score. He sent us a hand written conductor score. Signed.

The sad story of the outcome was that when the Winnipeg Ballet had that big fire on Portage Avenue, that score was destroyed. I should have kept it. Hindsight!!

An event took place at the beginning of 1951 that altered a few things.

January 22,3,4,5,1951 the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, performed in the Winnipeg Auditorium.

The performances were a combination of full length classics and English one act works.

Lois and I went to see the full Swan Lake, or Le Lac Des Cygnes as it was then called.

We went into the city from the acreage, booked a hotel room, ate then saw the performance.

Beryl Grey or “BIG BERYL” as we would later call her, was dancing the Swan parts, John Field who in 1946 returned from military duty in England, needed a place in the big company, so David was moved to the Junior company at the Sadler’s Well Theatre, was the Prince.

The performance was quite funny for me, because I had worked with the company before.

The show was a boost for both Lois and myself. Little did we know at that point that we would be dancing the full Swan Lake with the National Ballet a few years later.

Through the Winnipeg Ballet I was allowed to do class with the company. The Ballet Master was Harijs Plucis. His class was a good challenge for me.

After a couple of classes he offered me a scholarship with the company, he liked my work. What he did now know was that I had already been there, and was not about to do the return journey.

Another amusing event from the visit of the Sadler’s Wells was the fact that the Winnipeg company were asked to show the company some repertoire.

They chose Swan Lake pas de deux and some other classics that I had taught the company. Of course the ballet mistress said that they had been taught the wrong versions, and proceeded to teach them their versions.

I was annoyed, but also amused, for the versions I had taught were used by most European companies.

The Sergueef versions were always a bit suspect.

All that aside, I did enjoy meeting some of my chums from the company.

April 25, 1951 was a day to be marked on the calendar, our daughter, Janine Dariel Adams was born, in St. Boniface Hospital, Dr. Joseph Hollenberg in attendance.

My mother and I sat it the waiting room, for what seemed an eternity.

Finally, Doctor Joe, as we called him, passed by and said, “oh, she has red hair”.

We knew that I had a daughter, but little else.

She did not have red hair, but I did know that Dr. Joe had not lost his sense of humour.

We all went out to the acreage.

Lois was determined to be in some kind of shape as soon as possible. The day after the birth she was seen, doing leg lifts, to bring her abdominal muscles back into shape.

Because money was becoming a problem, I was trying to arrange night club shows in Winnipeg. I had done a couple with some Winnipeg Ballet members, but before long, Lois was ready to do a show with me, in a hotel in Winnipeg, our usual Astaire Rogers type number.

Correspondence began flying in from Toronto, about a show at a Promenade Concert in Toronto. That was the beginning of what would become first, The Canadian National Ballet, then the National Ballet of Canada. The first one sounded too much like a railway for most people.

This also would move Lois and I, to Toronto.

The place which we would make our home and a new life, but would eventually both move away from.

I went to Toronto, to meet with Celia Franca, and to begin rehearsals for the second act of Coppelia, which we would perform at the Promenade Concert.

My accommodations for the first couple of days were enough to make me homophobic, but that was soon changed.

I met a man named Stewart James, or James Bolsby.

Never fully understood the double name situation, but why worry.

I ended up always calling him “Jim”.

Jim came from a fairly well to do family, Dad was in the funeral business.

They had a house in the city, and also a house along the lakeshore in Mimico.

The Mimico house was where I stayed with Jim. It was a large three story house with space, comfort and a lakeside location.

Jim had the transportation.

I soon met Celia, and we talked about the show we would appear in.

We had access to St. Lawrence Hall for rehearsals.

The Hall was used in the winter to house indigents, a polite way of saying the street people.

As time went on I learned that the building had been everything from a City Hall, to a concert hall, in fact, Jenny Lind had sung there.

The studio on the second floor was enormous, with big windows, it was perfect for our needs.

It was rather dirty when I first saw it, but I and another young man would soon make short work of cleaning it up.

Celia Franca, fortunately, did not come up with any more remarks like the opener in Montreal, in fact, we got along quite well, after an initial talk.

We would do the second act which takes place in the workshop of Doctor Coppelius.

I would meet the other dancers eventually, who had been chosen from various studios around Toronto.

Celia would be Swanhilda, who pretends to be the Coppelia Doll, and Sydney Vousden would be Doctor Coppelius, the man who builds the mechanical dolls that are in his workshop.

I was Franz, the young man who had admired the doll sitting on the balcony of the house owned by Doctor Coppelius.

He would sneak into the house to find her and meet the Doctor.

We had an extended mime scene where I would try to explain why I was there, and the good Doctor would ply me with a drink.

For this version, I would dance a solo for the Doctor. It gave me more to do for usually, I danced only in the first and third acts of this ballet.

The drink would knock me out, so I slept through the bulk of the act, slumped on to a table.

The first scene is when Swanhilda and her friends get into the workshop and begin playing.

Little did I know at that point that eventually I would perform dozens of performances of the complete ballet, with the National Ballet, all over North America.

The socializing and the rehearsing, took up a lot of my time. Seeing Toronto except on the run, was my life

Writing home to Lois, who was anxious to hear any news of what was happening.

She was doing some classes with the Winnipeg people, but avoiding the subject of what I was up to.

I was not really sure if this Toronto thing was going to work, so I had to leave my options open.

I began to put two and two together. I had toured with the Winnipeg Ballet to Toronto, and in Toronto I was placed in billets with one of the people responsible for bringing Celia to Canada. While there, I had been asked a lot of questions about ballet companies, how they operated, and how they were financed.

The group calling themselves the National Ballet Guild of Canada, were responsible for organizing this performance, and, they had dreams of forming a National Ballet Company in Canada.

I was obviously in the right place at the right time.

Meeting some of those people once more, put the stamp on it.

We did the show, it was a success, they liked us, we had a big symphony orchestra with us, not much of a stage, but it all looked like a beginning.

A summer school would follow in July, which would expose the ballet world to the ideas put forward by Celia Franca.

As well as the Guild, the T. Eaton Company was behind the idea. It was from them that a kind of salary was paid to me, for making the masks that some of the dolls would wear for the performance.

I decided to have a go. I would go back to Winnipeg, get Lois, and bring her to Toronto. But!! I first had to persuade Celia that Lois was a very good dancer, and would prove to be an asset to the company.

Celia took my word, and accepted Lois, unseen.

I knew the potential was there, it just needed the opportunity.

I was absolutely right, for that woman became recognized as the first Canadian Prima Ballerina.

As well as a position in the company. I also acquired a show in Toronto, The CNE the Canadian National Exhibition, where Lois and I would be featured, and make some money.

We can thank David and Gail Grant for that.

We were to appear in Rhapsody in Blue on that enormous stage.

The scene was set, I headed back to Winnipeg, to Lois and Janine.

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