MOST of Canada's pioneers of the dance have been migrants from England. One of the first of these was a young lady from Lancashire who settled in Winnipeg.
Gweneth Lloyd was born in Eccles in 1901. She studied dancing and natural movement at the Liverpool Physical Training College, then moved on to the Ginner- Mawer School of Dance and Drama in London, where she acquired a knowledge of Greek dancing and, from Margaret Craske, the classical technique.
Gweneth Lloyd was ambitious with an unquenchable energy. She was aware that she had a talent for organising, but she could make little headway in her native land. As middle age approached and with a European war looming, she decided it was time to make a move. In 1938 with her pupil and lifelong friend Betty Farrally she transplanted herself to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she set up her Canadian School of Ballet. She never looked back
She found herself in the grainbelt. Life was rugged but there were no restrictions. Culture was scarce but there was music, the indigenous teachers of dance were tappers and musical comedy primitives. She had to overcome a certain prejudice but the field was open. Lloyd had visions of creating a great Canadian ballet; within a year she had a flourishing school, and from this she established the first professional ballet company in Canada. There was no opposition from rivals.
Lloyd was a creative artist and a prolific choreographer. Between 1939 and 1958 she wrote more than 50 ballets using a great variety of styles and subjects. Among her outstanding choreographies were the Wise Virgins, Finishing School, a comedy western The Shooting of Dan McGrue, and The Shadow of the Prairie. The latter ballet was made into a film by the National Film Board of Canada.
The company grew and prospered. She imported male dancers from abroad. She delegated responsibilities and was a very able director. Perhaps her greatest honour was in 1951 when a Royal Command Performance was given for the visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip - and from this followed a Royal Charter, which gave her company the distinction of being the only Royal Ballet in the Commonwealth.
She fed upon success opening branch schools in many areas and afer 20 years had reached her pinnacle. It must have been a considerable shock when the Board of Directors she had appointed to safeguard the company, calmly gave her the sack. They considered it time to bring in a new young artistic director. Undoubtedly she had her problems with the Board and their lack of understanding of her achievements. There had been an occasion in 1951 when the New York impresario Sol Hurok offered the company a tour of the States and the Board turned it down considering the offer 'financially insufficient'.
Lloyd did not fight with the Board. When she heard their decision she was off at a trot to the next assignment. Her replacement, Ruthana Boris, a Russian ballerina from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, lasted only two years in the driving seat, after which one of her leading male dancers, Arnold Spohr, was appointed and he was able to hold the reins for several decades, guiding the company to international fame and success.
Meanwhile, Lloyd established her second Canadian School of Ballet, in Toronto; but by this time a new Canadian ballet had been created in the city by Celia Franca from the Royal Ballet in London. Gweneth left her disciples and moved on, settling in the Okanagan Valley. She developed a chain of schools from north to south throughout the province, while living in Kelowna, British Columbia.
From 1948 to 1967 she was Ballet Director of the dance division of the Banff School of Fine Arts. The Banff summer school of ballet prospered over the years becoming one of the most prestigous seminars that attracted leading teachers from abroad.
Joy Camden, a leading Legat teacher, who worked with Gweneth during the Fifties as teacher-repetiteur to her company told me that: 'Gweneth was a very creative artist and an excellent teacher and a charming person beloved by all who worked with her.'
In 1968 Lloyd received the Officer Order of Canada and lived long enough to see her work mature and expand. Some of her dancers received international recognition. Evelyn Hart, one of the leading ballerinas in today's company, won a gold medal in Varna in 1980.
Gweneth Lloyd, truly pioneered ballet on the prairies and implanted a tradition.
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