National Ballet of Canada
Or was Canada's National Ballet ... the original acronym made it sound like a railroad company
|Ten Years of Souvenir Programmes
One of the first productions of the fledgeling National Ballet Company, which would soon change its name to the National Ballet of Canada to avoid sounding like it ran a railroad.
In addition to his growing knowledge of classical repertoire, David was becoming one of the finest dance partners in the balet world. There were very few variations that he could not execute, regardless of how little rehearsal time he'd been given, and which dancer he'd been partnered with.
A difference of a few inches in height, girth or weight is not significant for a solo ballerina, skill levels being about even. Such is not the case during a pas de deux; each woman is unique, and in major companies, partnered changed frequenly and without notice. Yet David was there, night after night, making his partners look brilliant in front of an ever-more demanding audience.
Multiple pirouettes, promenades in penchée, overhead death-defying areals and more complex exchanges became commonplace.
- Partnership On the marley
It probably wasn't marley then; it was probably lino. One of many poses for many pieces on many, many stages over the couple's decade together.
For a country which sometimes seems to regard its own success with suspicion, the response to Canada's young dancers was enthusiastic. Oxenham says it well: "together, David Adams and Lois Smith gave the National Ballet what every public seems to demand -- stars."
- On the town
Well now, where did that clean-cut young couple go? Just like the Beatles, sometimes David and Lois had to let down their hair: the nation's most glamorous pair cut up the floor for the papparazi.
"This husky and handsome young man from Winnipeg had acquired a theatrical flamboyance abroad before coming to the National Ballet. He had personality on stage, and the temperament of a performer. Energy and drive pervaded everything he did, and he was a dramatic dancer." - Herbert Whittaker (Canada's National Ballet, McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1967)
"Grant Strate ... shared the brunt of the in-house creative burden with David Adams in Canada's first decade." - Max Wyman
With both Franca and Smith, who shared the role of principal ballerina, but in the words of Herbert Whittaker (Canada's National Ballet, McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1967), "Adams had to establish the corresponding role almost single-handedly."
- Prince Igor
David Adams in Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor, Eaton Auditorium, November 12, 1951.
- Northern Alberta Jubilee
In that he spent his last quarter-century in its environs, it was perhaps fitting that David and Lois should participate in the 1957 opening of the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Along with it's Calgary counterpart (inventively named the "Southern ..."), the "Jube" was home to the Alberta Ballet until the company's move in the late 1980s.
"In the 1956-57 season, David Adam's most successful and lasting divertissement entered the repertoire. Pas de Chance was a lady wooed by 2 suitors simultaneously. She flirts with both of them, but finally accepts neither. Most of us felt that David, when he first started to work on the ten-minute piece, intended it to be serious, but with Angela Leigh, Ray Moller and Harold de Silva in the cast, it was interpreted by three tongues in three cheeks." - Celia Franca.
With David's sense of humour, it's uncertain how serious his intents were; he refers to Pas de Chance as an innuendo-loaded pun.
- A Quiet Moment
There really weren't many, but what is theatre without its illusions? The partnership was photogenic, and the photographers were playful. The 1950s were a time of exploration in Toronto: David and Lois were at the centre of it.
In the late fifties, the National moved into the difficult area of ballet for television. Franca recalls much of that era of televised dance as an appalling mockery; inappropriate camera angles, crotch shots, chopping off hands and feet, dangerously slippery studio floors, inconsiderate producers and arrogrant performers.
Through some miracle of fate, the National was gifted with a considerate and accessible producer who was willing to work with the company to produce quality. Appropriately, it was David and Lois who blazed the trail. In 1956, they were in the first live CBC production of Swan Lake, then in March of 1961 they danced in the first NBC/CBC studio video series ... again, it was Swan Lake.
- Canada's first couple
Before Augustyn and Kain, before Kain and Nureyev, before so many celebrated partnerships, there was Adams and Smith. The Canadian community bought into the arrangement.
What made David a star, beyond his own vitality and stage presence, was that he executed the lifts that only very few men in the world could do; one arm lifts over his head, lifts from the floor, straight-armed lifts that required exquisite timing and phenominal strength. No matter the hurts or illness that this discipline visits upon the performers, David could dazzle with injury-defying, spectacular partnering that was second only to the very best.
Beyond this, he could teach most of these lifts to the young men and women who came to the National Ballet to learn and perform. His capacity not only for demonstration and instruction, but for calm and effective analysis and correction endeared him to several generations of dancers from 1950 to today. Sometimes this talent caused him more grief than pleasure, as Franca remembers when Melissa Hayden danced with the National Ballet in 1963:
"She refused to dance with [principal] Earl Kraul, so David Adams had to partner her throughout. He said he would never go through that again (and I told him I wouldn't ask him to do it); Miss Hayden would become very nervous with the classics, forget the choreography and blame David for the mistakes. David is one of the strongest and most reliable partners anyone could wish for, but she never knew where she was going on stage."
- Grip and grin in LA
"David created the lovely Pas de deux Romantique for himself and Lois. The choreography was in the style of the Bolshoi Ballet with its spectacular lifts and was difficult to rehearse. David and Lois had some tense moments over it, but it turned out to be a very personal statement; at their request it was never danced with another couple." - Celia Franca
- David Adams and Lois Smith in Lilac Garden
David: "Anthony Tudor made an impression upon the National Ballet dancers through his ballets and his way of working with the dancers. He terrified so many of the dancers in the company through his very direct method of achieving the end product. The proof of his methods was proven through the countless performances of his ballets, especially Lilac Garden and Offenbach in the Underworld. The influence on the company by Tudor carried over in to other repertoire."
- 1960 program notes for Lilac Garden
Lilac Garden was one of the earlier works commissioned by the National Ballet of Canada in 1953. According to Franca, "Tudor was very interested in Lois and David, who were to dance Caroline and her lover, and they seemed very much to enjoy rehearsing it." Almost ten years later, as David was preparing to leave the company, it was mounted again.
“The only Canadian dancer I had known before coming to David Adams. he had danced with the Winnipeg Ballet before coming to England to work with the Sadler’s Wells and then the Metropolitan Ballet; there we had sometimes danced together in Victor Gsovsky’s The Dances of Galanta. In the late forties he returned to Vancouver, where fortunately for the National Ballet, he met and married Lois Smith.
“Lois had ballet training but had never danced in a professional ballet company; nevertheless with her beautiful legs and feet, natural classic line and zeal, she was destined to become our first principal ballerina. David was an excellent partner for her: Lois, though on the tall side, had a delicate, fragile appearance; David was built like a football player, and his muscular physique showed off Lois’ femininity to advantage.”
National Ballet of Canada: A Celebration
U of T Press, 1978