When Sullivan returned to Montréal her former dance teacher, Gérald Crevier, invited her teach modern dance at his Guy Street studio. Brian Macdonald, who became one of Canada's premier choreographers and stage directors, was one of her students. At the time, Macdonald was enrolled at McGill University and attended Sullivan's classes a few times a week. Sullivan imported several of the pedagogical techniques she had learned from Boas. For instance, as she taught, Sullivan accompanied herself by playing a Wigman drum. Also like Boas, Sullivan emphasized careful technique in order to prevent injuries and used structured improvisations that formed the core of her classes. Move across the floor from the corner to the door, she would tell Macdonald. Move as though you are struggling across a desert, desperate for a glass of water.
Shortly after she settled back into her life in Montréal, Sullivan decided to create a series of improvised dances on the theme of the seasons. The series was to be unusual in two ways: Sullivan would perform outside instead of in a studio or on a stage and she would also have her improvised dances captured by film and photographs. Sullivan launched her project with L'Été, which was filmed on the beach at Escoumins by her mother in June 1947. Unfortunately, this film has been lost.
The following February, Sullivan donned her boots, woollen tights, a long skirt, a warm sweater, gloves and a knitted toque to improvise a dance she called Danse dans la neige that was photographed in Saint-Hilaire by Maurice Perron, an Automatist friend. The whistling wind and crunching snow was her music. "All the countryside seemed to whisper," she remembered. "The brisk air reddened our cheeks. The ground was rough and sturdy under our feet ... I let the movements come, vigorous in the cold ... I danced with light feet on the rough slopes of winter, I turned round in the cold wind and ran under the sun ... I let rhythms flow."
The final two sections of Sullivan's series of improvised dances on the theme of the seasons never came to fruition. Autumn was to have been performed in mounds of raked leaves in a forest. Spring was to be danced in the rain in Old Montréal at the break of dawn. Somehow Sullivan could never quite coordinate her schedule with the weather or with an available photographer, and other projects became more imperative.
In February 1948, the same month Sullivan performed Danse dans la neige, she gave a talk entitled "La dance et l'espoir" for her Automatist friends. The text of her lecture reflects Boas' anthropological emphasis on the illuminating model of non-industrial societies in which dance is an integral part, and her former New York teacher's conviction in the transformative power of dance, as well as the Automatist belief in the creative power of the uncensored unconscious. (next page)
©2006, Dance Collection Danse