Vancouver's dancers were appreciated not only on local stages but, increasingly, in theatres around the world. Suzanne Sickelmore in England and Isadore Cohn in New York are two examples from the 1920s of a growing number of Vancouver dancers who enjoyed success outside of their hometown. A headline found in the Sun on May 7, 1927, “Local Dancers Make Big Hit”, celebrates two more. The article is about Marguerite Goldsworthy, a pupil of Mollie Lee, and Molly Peck, who were performing in New York with the Albertina Rasch Girls. At the time of the article, they were in the ballet Rasch choreographed for a musical called Rio Rita, which had opened New York's Ziegfeld Theater a few months earlier.
The city's increasing interest in and knowledge of the arts was due in part to the remarkable Lily J. Laverock, who was the first woman to graduate in moral philosophy from Montreal's McGill University and who was also the first woman newspaper reporter in Vancouver. She launched her career as an impresario in 1921 with the International Celebrity Concerts, which continued until World War II. Over this period, Edinburgh-born Laverock brought many important artists, such as Maurice Ravel and Sergei Rachmaninoff, to Vancouver. During the 1930s, she presented the Jooss Ballet, Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe and American Ballet Caravan, helping to build the appetite for ballet that had been whetted by those earlier visits from the Russians.
Laverock was also indirectly responsible for creating career opportunities for local dancers, who were able to audition for some of the touring troupes she presented. In 1937, for example, Joy Darwin successfully auditioned for the Jooss Ballet, while Rosemary Deveson and Patricia Denise Meyers were accepted into Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe in 1938. Deveson and Meyers were just the first of June Roper's students to find employment with Russian ballet companies.
Modern dance, too, began to come into its own. The visits of Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis may not have had the impact of the Russian ballet, and would not at the time have been singled out as part of what we now call modern dance, but the history and practice of the art form was being established. By the 1930s, Helen Crewe was incorporating some of Martha Graham's exercises in her ballet classes. She had learned these from a teacher in Seattle, Washington. Joan Crewe Straight accompanied her mother to the United States for these summer sessions, and also took modern dance from a German teacher in London, England. When Straight returned home in 1938 and began to teach with her mother, Vancouver dance students could choose to study modern along with the usual ballet, Spanish, tap and ballroom.
Over the next few decades, both ballet and modern dance thrived, as would all kinds of dance, whether created for purposes of art or entertainment. Today, boundaries between different genres of dance are fluid and cross-pollination takes the art form in its usual surprising new directions. The dance scene in Vancouver continues to have a vigour and variety that happily recalls those pioneering days. (next page)
©2006, Dance Collection Danse