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Judy's company lasted until 1983, when she had no more will to continue. She had pioneered. She had withstood the grinding bleakness of touring a small dance company, had in fact enjoyed being on the road with her company away from administrative duties. She had endured the lack of technical support, carrying her own tape recorder, setting up and striking shows. She had danced in small theatres unsuitable for dance. She had survived early mornings in cold gymnasiums with hard floors and ugly lighting. She had worked with a stream of new dancers, each needing coaching, money, time, encouragement. Short of developing a management infrastructure for her Company, Judy had done everything expected of her. It had not come out well, professionally. She was embittered by that when her funding disappeared.

Catherine 1There is a great change in the Toronto dance scene. I am now studying Limon technique and have returned to the solo dance. I have also begun to read again -- which I used to do, before dancing. I believe that the wild elements in me will find a place, and that nature will give me grace. This I feel, deep inside, despite all the unhappiness.
Letter from Judy to Frau Til Thiele, March 24, 1982

That fall Judy did her production of Catherine the Great. She wrote the script, researched it exhaustively, created the costumes and selected the music. She was 39, looking for the inner voice which had fed the strength of her early work, trying to grasp the root of the creative source which had led her through years of harsh trial.

She presented Catherine in Toronto at the Winchester Street Theatre in November of 1982. But it was not well received. It got one devastating review. As measure of her own black anger against the press, she struck out against the critic's credentials, plagued him with letters, showed up on his doorstep to let him know the damage he had done to her reputation and future prospects. She later gave performances of the work in Windsor and Kingston, but Catherine did not excite the acclaim she had hoped for.

The very ground that Judy had cultivated for fifteen years had shifted under her. Judy was fragmented, strapped for money and despairing, but always feisty. Her vitality had gone into her creation and performing life. Now she needed some security, wanted to build something lasting.

OK Judy. You have persevered to the end. To the last point. There has been very little to hold you up -- and less to go on. Ultimate defeat. Yet why this burning confidence? Have I broken into new circles with Catherine? Yes. Some. Small headway in a small community ... Why does it turn out so often that the people I like and trust don't like my work? Well. Oh well. Few friends in a calculating city. An accumulation of inner wealth on my part. There is much to do -- but yet has been done!
Judy's journal, Christmas Day, 1982

New Directions TitleBy the fall of 1983, when she was 41, Judy was enrolled in the Artist in Community Education programme at MacArthur College, Queen's University, working towards a degree in Dramatic and Visual Arts. She had a faith in training, and she was deeply in need of a sense of security.

Teacher's College was the great divide for Judy. It was the end of her public professional dance identity. She endured encompassing the radical shift of means and values that teacher training must have represented to her. Used to working intuitively, spontaneously, here she was required to make detailed plans and constant evaluations. Yet she kept her aims intact. She did a solo concert while a student at MacArthur. She revelled in the dramatic depth she could find in some of her assignments.

Judy received her Ontario Teacher's Certificate on June 30, 1984 and she signed a contract for a position at Madonna High School in Toronto. During her teaching years she took courses to upgrade her certificate and was a member of the committee which hammered out the first guidelines for dance in the Ontario public school system.

She put on two successful theatre productions at Madonna, The Mousetrap and Pygmalion. They drew big audiences and earned Judy the adoration of her students.

Three Women, 1989Judy never identified herself as a dancer in the school, though some of the staff knew her by reputation. She was unravelling the very fabric of her being, her physical identity as a dancer, and at the same time coping with the culture shock of a new profession. In a way Judy had come full circle. Her first large creation was made while she was teaching at St. Joseph's High School, a Catholic school. Her last creation was made at Madonna High School for Remembrance Day services. In November 1986, David Renski, the school librarian, invited Judy to create a piece on students. She responded with a group piece for a number of girls, staged in front of a wall of concrete blocks. They shuffled, heads hung, rising and falling repeatedly through Judy's moribund statement. The dance stunned the watching students with its strength.

Judy had moved on to a new phase of a discontinuous life. She was forgiving and healing, making her life coherent again, embracing her wounds and her grief, inspiring again, though in a profession which did not in turn revitalize her. The students loved her, but she was not fed. She was tired. She told a few friends that if she could not dance anymore, she wanted to go.

She died suddenly and completely unexpectedly. There was a small fire in her apartment, and she passed away as a result of heart failure from smoke inhalation.

Judy is remembered at Madonna High School with an annual award in her name and she is remembered through the activities of the Judy Jarvis Dance Foundation. The Gina Lori Riley Dance Enterprises reconstructed and performed the evening-long Judy Jarvis Collection in Windsor and Toronto in 1989. Bella, Clouds and People...People have continued in the repertoire of the Danny Grossman Dance Company. She lives too, in the body memory of those who danced with her. She still moves brightly in the minds of those who laughed with her and saw her dance.

Judy Jarvis was a true pioneer. She was an independent, a tireless inspirational teacher, an improvisational artist and charismatic performer who created from a blend of theatre and dance, now a strong current of Canadian dance. She was an original, difficult, feisty and radical. She was brave in what she put on the stage, preferring honesty to any convention of dance or beauty.

Judy Jarvis as Catherine the GreatIn a way almost unknown to western dance, audiences in other cultures are attuned to cherishing the soul-quality of dance artists who are no longer young. Too often western dance does not allow its beautiful children to grow up and the wholeness of its vision suffers. In this, Judy's early death is tragic, for she was an artist who comprehended an individual voice as the spirit of dance. She could have grown to be an even more revered teacher. She merited the choice and the time, though it might have taken years, to create authentically again. When Judy worked with soloist Denise Fujiwara in August 1986, teaching her Flight, her readiness to share her hard-won understanding was manifest.

Susan Green tells a story of going to a party at Judy's apartment shortly before she died. It was early evening and Judy had placed lit candles in front of the mirror. Mary Wigman had told her to do this, she said, this way you got twice as much candle. Judy loved the theatricality of the effect, loved to watch the light change. As it grew darker the light of the candles grew more and more intense, until they were blazing in darkness.

Judy Jarvis' memory does not fade as the darkness of passing time grows. Her life was precious, inspirational, troubled, and much too brief. Her jewel-like dances resonate, sparking in the memory of those who saw her dance. The richness of her arduously won wisdom and the depth of her commitment to dance will continue to speak vividly to those who approach her work.

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2005, Dance Collection Danse
Jarvis Exhibition Curator:
Pamela Grundy
Biography Text:
Carol Anderson
Web Design: Believe It Design Works

Catherine Poster Thumbnail
Poster for
Catherine the Great

Judy in Catherine the Great

Prophet Thumbnail
1989 Remount of

Catherine Thumbnail 2
Denise Fujiwara in
























1967 - 1971


1971 - 1977


1977 - 1983