THE 1920s

THE 1930s




By the late fall of 1933, Sutcliffe was working again with The Children Players this time choreographing an "Angels Dance" for The Dream Scene from Hansel and Graetel directed by Frederic Manning. Sutcliffe seems to have focussed on teaching in the 1933/34 season and gave an earlier recital, this time in April. Dances included Pageant of the Months, a series of twelve short works emphasizing a theme for each month such as a Skaters Waltz for January, Flowers for May, Swimming Tableau for July and Hallowe'en Witches for October. Bettina Byers performed Danse Classique and Helen Richardson did the Bubble Dance. In May, some of Sutcliffe's students contributed to a piano recital for the students of another Conservatory teacher, Norma F. Moore. On June 29, Sutcliffe participated in "A Pageant of Nursing in Canada" directed by her Hart House Theatre colleague Edgar Stone. Held at the Royal York Hotel Concert Hall, the pageant celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Canadian Nurses' Association. Written by Jesse Edgar Middleton and narrated by actor Ray Purdy, the pageant followed the history of nursing in Canada beginning with the arrival of Jeanne Mance in Quebec in 1639 to the role of nurses in times of war and plagues to the first nursing school in Canada. Sutcliffe choreographed and danced the "Devil Scenes": "The Devil of Dirt", "The Devil of Laziness", "The Devil of Ignorance", "The Devil of Use-and-Wont" and "The Devil of Neglect". There are four "Page" characters in the pageant who usually chase off the "Devil" in these scenes; these dancers were supplied by the DaCosta studio.


The summer meant overseas travel and study again. Many colleagues from the Conservatory accompanied Sutcliffe on the ship Europa. Frederic Manning apparently received free passage after gathering ten other paying customers. Pianist Winnifred Mazzoleni and her husband, conductor Ettore Mazzoleni, were aboard as well as Winnifred's sister, Jean Ross MacMillan (also the sister of Ernest MacMillan) and three of Dorothy Goulding's daughters: Dorothy Jane, Susan and Ann. After a stop in London, they were ultimately headed to the Salzburg Mozarteum Academy, an international school for music, conducting, theatre and dance. The dancing portion for the annual summer school was to be led by German Expressionist Harald Kreutzberg. Sutcliffe had been introduced to Expressionism at Mary Wigman's Toronto performance in 1931 but learned more about this art movement during the summer of 1933 while studying in London; she was quite inspired by the work of Kreutzberg, Wigman and Kurt Jooss. However, the group's exciting plans were put on hold when the ship they were travelling on diverted its course to Germany after the assassination of Austrian dictator Englebert Dollfuss on July 25. In Germany, Sutcliffe embarked on studies with Mary Wigman at her school in Dresden.

For the week of July 16-21, 1934, Sutcliffe was in London attending lectures and workshops offered by The Association of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain. In the afternoon reception at Claridge's Hotel on July 20, a presentation was made of the Association's most recent work. In the "Display of Side Practice" arranged by Phyllis Bedells, thirteen-year-old Celia Franks was among the dancers; Franks, under the name Celia Franca, eventually came to Canada to help establish and direct The National Ballet of Canada in 1951.

The fall of 1934 was spent teaching as well as rehearsing for a busy season of performances in the winter and spring. Sutcliffe began the new year with a joint recital with mezzo-soprano Rhoda Byers on January 21, 1935 at Hart House Theatre. Rhoda Byers was the sister of Bettina Byers; before Bettina turned to dance, she often accompanied her sister's singing by playing the piano. According to Sutcliffe, when the Byers sisters' father died in the 1930s, Bettina had had enough of being the accompanist and used her inheritance to study dance intensively, including private lessons with Sutcliffe and trips overseas to study the RAD technique. The evening's performance was divided into five parts with Sutcliffe performing three parts and Rhoda, the remaining two. Rhoda Byers sang German songs including several by Brahms. Sutcliffe began the evening with a series of studies based on the teachings of Nicolas Legat, Mikhail Morkin and Michel Fokine. An anonymous reviewer considered the middle group of dances more modern in feeling and the last consisted of two Spanish dances. Sutcliffe received several complimentary cards from friends and colleagues including a card from Bettina Byers that says, "... to see you do Spanish thrills me more than any dancer, even Baronova, doing any thing."

Sutcliffe was on board for two Toronto Children Players productions in the early spring. In March, the group did a series of short plays: The Three Bears, The Gnomes' Workshop - Mortals Repaired and The Three Wishes. In between the plays there was a sing-song followed by a dance choreographed by Sutcliffe. An April show featured Mother Goose rhymes. These performances took place at Margaret Eaton Hall, a switch from the group's usual Hart House venue. The venue switch has to do with Edgar Stone. Stone, who had been the director of Hart House Theatre when the Children Players first formed, left Hart House in 1934 and was working at Margaret Eaton Hall. He was also chairman of the Toronto Children Players and Goulding seems to have followed him to Margaret Eaton Hall.

Sutcliffe37AFamiliar names are still associated with the Children Players including Fred Manning. Another is Hope Holmested who is listed as Supervising Director and who volunteered frequently for the group. A Fanny Lyons has been brought in to arrange dances and pantomime for The Gnomes' Workshop but nothing else is revealed about her, although she may be the mother of a performer. Pauline Sullivan played "Shipleenoff, the Russian composer" in The Gnomes' Workshop. Sullivan was a student of Russian émigré Boris Volkoff (Leon Leonidoff's replacement at the Uptown Theatre) and she travelled with Volkoff's company to the 1936 Berlin Olympics to perform in a cultural festival there.

In May, Sutcliffe presented a recital of her Conservatory pupils. The featured piece was Carnival of the Animals set to Camille Saint-Saëns' music. Critic Lawrence Mason described the piece in his review: "The most imposing effort was the Saint-Saens 'Carnival of Animals,' in which some thirty-five dancers of all ages took part elaborately garbed to represent the various creatures called for by the music. The lions, tortoises, and birds won all hearts, while more seriously artistic work was done by the mermaids, fossils, and swans." This work was repeated using fifty students at an evening's entertainment put on by the Home and School Council at Jarvis Collegiate the following October. Among the dancers in this production were the Davis children: Barbara, Murray, Virginia and Donald. Sutcliffe travelled weekly to Newmarket, north of Toronto, where she was picked up from the bus station by E.J. Davis, Jr., a prominent businessman. Brought to the Davis house, Sutcliffe taught in a studio that had been built onto the house for Davis' wife, a dancer of Gypsy descent who died prematurely not long after the birth of her son Donald. At the Davis' house, Sutcliffe taught all four Davis children as well as some of their cousins and other local children. The Newmarket students often came downtown to participate in spring recitals with Sutcliffe's Toronto students. Three of the Davis children, Murray, Donald and their sister Barbara (whose stage name made use of their mother's maiden name, Chilcott), contributed significantly to Canadian theatre history through the Straw Hat Players, the Crest Theatre, the Crest Hour Company and their individual acting careers.

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Alison Sutcliffe Exhibition Curator: Amy Bowring
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Alison Sutcliffe's calling card, 1930










1930 - 1931


1932 - 1933


1933 - 1935


1935 - 1936


1936 - 1937


1937 - 1939