Gertrude Hoffman (sometimes Hoffmann) is cited as the first “art” dancer in American vaudeville by dance writer Elizabeth Kendall, who also credits Hoffman with bringing the first, albeit pirated, edition of the Ballets Russes to North America in 1911. Hoffman brought La Saison des Ballets Russes to Vancouver on October 6 and 7 of the same year. The Province's review begins by providing its readers with some useful background information:
That Miss Gertrude Hoffmann should have dreamed of ever bringing to America the beauties of the Slavic mimodrama exemplified by Russian dancers, at whose feet she sat in wonder on a certain summer evening two years ago in the Chatelet Theater, Paris, is not strange. That after two years of incessant effort to master more than the elements of the art choreographic and to organize her company of one hundred artists while pursuing a path beset with many financial dangers, Miss Hoffmann should have realized to the full her great ambition, and in last night's performance at the Vancouver Opera House offered to Canadian music and drama lovers of the Far West such a feast of aesthetic interpretation as the New World has never received before, speaks volumes for the indomitable courage of that charming California actress and rapidly developing danseuse.
Three ballets by Mikhail Fokine, staged by Theodore Kosloff without permission, made up the serious part of the evening. In Cléopâtre, Kosloff, who was Hoffman's ballet master, appeared as the young lover Amoun, with Hoffman as “the voluptuous wrecker of Amoun's happiness....” In Les Sylphides, Alexandre Volinine bore “little Mlle Lopoukowa through the mazes of their dances like some Greek god carrying a bit of thistledown.” Hoffman's Zobeide in the final ballet, Schéhérazade, “stands as a finished achievement....”
Hoffman, who was after all first and foremost a popular vaudeville dancer, also provided her impersonations of comedian Eddie Foy in his ballerina act; distinguished actress Ethel Barrymore; songwriter George M. Cohan; brassy, cyclonic singer-dancer Eva Tanguay; Anna Held, a French star known for her song “I Just Can't Make My Eyes Behave”; Scots comic entertainer Harry Lauder; and Ruth St. Denis.
Despite the unfamiliarity of this huge dance spectacle to North America, the almost three-hour evening was apparently a great success. The anonymous Province reviewer, on October 7, 1911, expects the production's second performance to “attract many besides the regular patrons of the theatre who, however much they may have read in advance of the performance will fall short in their anticipation of the wonderful kaleidoscope of color and the complete expressiveness of every theme by Miss Hoffmann and the Russian ballet.” (next page)
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