Large portions of this text are drawn from Allana Lindgren's book From Automatism to Modern Dance: Françoise Sullivan with Franziska Boas in New York, published in 2003 by Dance Collection Danse Press/es.
Françoise Sullivan, the youngest child and only daughter of Corinne (Bourgouin) Sullivan and John A. Sullivan, was born on June 19, 1925, in Montréal. Although neither her parents nor her siblings demonstrated artistic talent, excellence and achievement were clearly familial priorities. Her father, for instance, had trained as a lawyer. He was also the President of Sullivan Gold Mine Ltd. In addition, he had served in the Reserve of Officers, 64th Regiment; was a member of the Board of Examiners for the Québec Bar and became the Commissioner of the Catholic School Board of Montréal. In 1926, when Sullivan was only a year old, her father ran unsuccessfully in the federal general election. Four years later, he tried again and on July 28, 1930, was elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative MP for the St. Anne's riding in Montréal. After the dissolution of the seventeenth Parliament in 1935, John Sullivan decided not to campaign for re-election. Instead he was appointed Deputy Postmaster General, a position he held from 1935 until 1945, during which time he was elected Vice-President of the International Postal Congress. In 1945 he left the public service sector to establish Sullivan and Sullivan, a joint law practice, with one of his sons.
Sullivan turned her own intense ambition toward the arts. When she was nine years old, she began to study ballet at Shefler's Dance Studio and then with Gérald Crevier. During her years at Crevier's studio, from 1934 until 1945, she performed featured roles in many of her teacher's recitals, and often was singled out for praise. As one reviewer noted after attending a concert of Crevier's school, Sullivan had technical and interpretive talent that surpassed her years and experience.
Among the solo performers, special credit is due Miss Françoise Sullivan, who carried a major portion of the burden during the evening. In her early teens, this young lady displays remarkable possibilities for the future. While technically her dancing is all that could be desired in one even several years older, she displays a remarkable conception of the poetic meaning of the dances she performed, the power to express in such a way as to convey the meaning of every movement, and a poise that was a delight to watch.
Despite Sullivan's early performance success, her desire was not just to interpret, but also to create. Her first effort at choreography performed for a paying audience occurred by happenstance while she was in her mid-teens: literally, opportunity knocked on the door. Alice Szata, a Montréal actress who paid her way by working as a seamstress, came to the Sullivan home. The actress mentioned to Sullivan that she was mounting a production and invited the aspiring dancer to choreograph a piece for the first intermission. Sullivan created a short work about the commedia dell'arte characters Colombine, Pierrot and Harlequin, which she danced with her childhood friends Pierre Gauvreau and Bruno Cormier.
In addition to dance, Sullivan had always been interested in visual arts. In her youth, she began her formal study in painting at Sacré-Cœur College, and took a drawing class at the École des beaux-arts before enrolling there full-time in 1940. Modelled on art schools in France, École des beaux-arts taught the traditional principles of realistic painting. Once again, Sullivan excelled, winning prizes and honourable mentions in her first year. Despite this easy success - or perhaps because of it - she soon grew restless. (next page)
©2006, Dance Collection Danse