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EARLY YEARS

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THE 1930s

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Sutcliffe097ASmAfter her return to Toronto in 1930, Sutcliffe taught ballet at the DaCosta Studio but also reconnected with Hart House Theatre performing in productions there. At the DaCosta Studio, she complimented their ballroom training with ballet classes including pointe work. The DaCosta brochure for the 1930/31 season promotes Sutcliffe's classes:

We are offering an opportunity such as seldom comes to the professional and amateur dancers of Toronto, a system of training similar to that used in the best schools of the world under Miss Alison Sutcliffe.

Miss Sutcliffe comes to us direct from the Metropolitan Opera Ballet of New York City, of which organization she has been a member for five years [sic]. In addition to her work there, her training has been under such world-famous masters as Michel Fokine, Mordkin, Tarasoff, Kobeleff and others whose work is recognized as the greatest of our age.

In the fall of 1930, Sutcliffe worked with Lorna McLean, whom she knew from Hart House as well as from the classes of Mildred Marsh and Winnifred Fax, in a Hart House Theatre production of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt. McLean, now also known as Mrs. Terence Sheard, directed the dancing for the production while Ernest MacMillan and Ettore Mazzoleni directed the music. McLean also performed the role of "Anitra". Edgar Stone acted as director. Stone was Hart House Theatre's fifth director serving from 1929-1934. Though he was the second Canadian director, he was the first to come from within the ranks having participated in a number of shows at Hart House in the 1920s. Perhaps this existing affiliation with the theatre is what prompted him to develop a stronger relationship with the student body - a relationship that had caused tension between the university and the theatre during the leadership of previous directors. Stone was a source of encouragement in the establishment of the Toronto Children Players. He also had a connection to the dance community having performed in Amy Sternberg's "Fantastic Extravaganza" at Massey Hall in 1915.

Sutcliffe95AOther collaborators for Peer Gynt included set designer Fred Coates who was an instructor in the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto; both he and his wife, Louise, were involved in the Arts and Crafts movement in Toronto and their house in Scarborough, "Sherwood", was a gathering place for artists from the time it was built in the 1920s through the next four decades. (We know Sutcliffe maintained her connection to Coates as evidenced by one of the Sherwood guest books from 1940.) This elaborate staging of Peer Gynt was the 100th play shown at Hart House Theatre and included performers who were notable in their time, such as Jack Nash, Heasel Mitchell and dancer/actresses Elaine Wodson and Violet Andras, and those who would make further contributions to Canada's arts scene in the decades to come, such as Ray Purdy who was heavily involved in the army shows during World War II, and poet Dorothy Livesay. Other participants were Evelyn VanValkenburg, president of the Heliconian Club; and Fred Mallett, future husband of actress Jane Mallett. It is chilling to look back in time through these artifacts and see the collections of artists who make up the casts in these early Hart House productions. They worked in the greatest economic depression in Canadian history but they managed to eke out a living or pay for education while also participating in the burgeoning little theatre movement in Canada.

Following the Peer Gynt production, in December 1930, Sutcliffe trained young dancers for old English carol dances in a Yuletide act as part of the "Light of the World" concert of forty-seven adult choirs (primarily from churches) and nine school choirs held at Massey Hall. Other participating artists included Arthur Lismer who designed the stained-glass windows that comprised the set, and Merle Nichols of the Dickson Kenwin Academy of Dramatic Art who staged the Santa Claus Nocturne. In the same month, Sutcliffe performed the role of the Firefly in Edgar Stone's production of A.A. Milne's Make-Believe at Hart House.

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2008, Dance Collection Danse
Alison Sutcliffe Exhibition Curator: Amy Bowring
Web Design:
Believe It Design Works

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Clipping for production of Peer Gynt, 1930

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Handmade cards designed by Fred and Louise Coates

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TORONTO'S DANCE, MUSIC AND THEATRE SCENES

 

TRAINING AND PERFORMING

 

DANCER, DIRECTOR, COLLABORATOR

 

1930

 

1930 - 1931

 

1932 - 1933

 

1933 - 1935

 

1935 - 1936

 

1936 - 1937

 

1937 - 1939

 

1939 TO PRESENT

 

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