Modern dancer and choreographer Saida Gerrard worked with the New Dance Theatre in 1949 and 1950 choreographing and rehearsing a work titled Di Naye Hagode (The Glory of the Warsaw Ghetto). It was set to composer Max Helfman's choral tone poem and staged in performances with the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir. Gerrard was raised in Toronto but had studied modern dance in New York City in the 1930s. She taught modern dance in Toronto from 1934-1936 but returned to New York to continue a career there; however, she made trips to Toronto to choreograph and teach. For more information on Saida Gerrard, view the Pages in History section of the DCD website or read Selma Odom's article in the ETDC/EDTC.
This photograph portrays the scene in which a family learns that their son has not returned from the war. Theresa Chapman was acclaimed for her role as the mother. An unidentified clipping reads, "In one of the dramatic highlights of the ballet, there is a pause in Kabalevsky's music. The only moving figure on stage is the mother (brilliantly danced by Terry [sic] Chapman) whose son has not returned from the war. The audience sat deathly still under the impact of the emotional movements of the dancer. On stage--the suffering and pathos of a mother during war; in the hearts of the onlookers (the audience)--a further deepening and meaning to their desire for peace."
The 1949/50 season of New Dance Theatre at the United Jewish People's Order featured a range of modern dance classes along with ballet and folk dance. Nancy Lima Dent and Cynthia Barrett headed up the modern classes while taught ballet and Ivy Krehm taught folk dance. Ten dollars bought you a term of sixteen classes and half that price paid for children's classes.
In the summer of 1949, Nancy met a construction worker and social activist named Walter Dent. Walter was born near Parry Sound in 1917 and was a veteran of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II. In 1937 he spent nine months in Spain fighting the fascist regime and then returned to Canada to tour the country raising money for Spanish civilians. He enlisted in the Canadian army before war against Germany was declared. Aware of the use of German weaponry and the Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War, Walter was determined to maintain the fight against fascism. He nearly lost his leg in World War II and spent close to a year in a Canadian hospital recuperating. Nancy and Walter were married in 1956. He died in 1993.
On May 22 and 23, 1953 the New Dance Theatre travelled to Montreal to debut its new full-length work Lysistrata at Mount Royal High School. Montrealers had not seen the group since its debut there at the Third Canadian Ballet Festival (1950) and Montreal was happy to see them again. An unidentified clipping reads, "The group's stature has grown immensely in the intervening years. Not only did the idea of the come across clearly, but it was executed on a technically high level with intricate choreography which at times had a great sense of humor." The back of a house programme indicates that the work was performed in Toronto as well but no other details are known.
Despite having the United Jewish People's Order as a support organization for the New Dance Theatre, Nancy never received any compensation for all of her work as a director and choreographer. She was paid a stipend for teaching but had to work many unpleasant day jobs as she struggled to maintain her status as an artist. The UJPO's patronage supplied the company with rehearsal space and occasionally money for costumes and sets, but paying a director to lead the dance group never seemed a priority. A schism also developed within the group. After a visit to Toronto by the Bolshoi Ballet, some group members became enamoured with technical virtuosity over creative expression.
By 1955, Nancy realized she had marketable skills and when Sudbury's Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers' Union invited her to set up dance programmes for the communities of Sudbury and nearby Garson, she could not refuse. For more on Nancy Lima Dent's establishment of dance schools in these areas, click the "Tour" button.
In March 1949, the Neo Dance Theatre participated in the Second Canadian Ballet Festival held at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre. The Canadian Ballet Festival had begun the previous April in Winnipeg initiated by the Winnipeg Ballet's David Yeddeau, Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally and Toronto's Boris and Janet Volkoff. The Festival sought to develop dancers and choreographers in Canada with the hope of creating professional opportunities for Canadian dance artists. It also encouraged collaboration between Canadian choreographers, designers and composers. There were six festivals in total, held in various Canadian cities between 1948 and 1954. The festival ceased to continue in 1955 after organizers recognized that many professional opportunities had been created for dancers and the festival's primary goal had been met. Canadian dancers and choreographers could find work on television, at the Canadian National Exhibition, in musical theatre, or with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. To see more of Neo Dance Theatre's participation in the Canadian Ballet Festival, follow the "Tour" button. (The Neo Dance Theatre became the New Dance Theatre late in 1949.)
Nancy Lima Dent's is another of her anti-war works. It is the story of two high school graduations. The first, in 1939, comes with a call to war to fight fascism in Europe. The homecoming scene was intensely moving as, according to the programme notes, "tragedy is felt by the family whose son does not return." The second graduation, in 1951, finds the brother of the lost son now a graduate himself. These young people are "full of the zest for life ready to pursue their peaceful occupations." However, they find themselves facing a peace threatened by the Cold War. The young brother must deal with his inner turmoil as "the newspapers urge him to join hands with the fascists who killed his brother, but who have now been released from jail and armed." His friends and loved ones help him deal with his conflict and he joins the quest for peace. The situation referred to in this narrative is the controversy over German rearmament. The Canadian government supported German rearmament, which was essential to the United States' Cold War policy. However, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and its affiliated groups, including the United Jewish People's Order (UJPO), were against rearming the nation that had overseen the execution of six million Jews. After a CJC delegation met with the Canadian government on this matter, the CJC backed off on its campaign against German rearmament; however, the UJPO continued its own campaign to the embarrassment of the CJC. Also contrary to the CJC, the UJPO opposed the Korean War and supported the 1950 Stockholm Peace Petition, which called for the outlawing of atomic weapons. It was not long after this incident that the UJPO was expelled from the CJC. On the back cover of the programme for Credo is a petition for a World Peace Pact from.
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Lima Dent Exhibition Curator: Amy Bowring
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