292 East Hastings Street
Located in Vancouver's original theatre district near Main and Hastings streets, the Empress Theatre at 292 East Hastings was home to the biggest stage west of Chicago when it opened in 1908. Although the Empress was originally a project initiated by actor M.B. Curtis who wanted to replace the People's Theatre at Pender and Howe, it was eventually constructed by a group of local businessmen and was first operated by the Del S. Lawrence stock company. The theatre's biggest claim to dance history fame is as the site of the only Canadian performance of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, held January 15, 1917 with Vaslav Nijinsky in the cast. The Ted Shawn Ensemble made its first local appearance at this theatre in 1935, while Martha Graham and the San Francisco Ballet followed in 1935 and 1937 respectively. Anna Pavlova also performed here in February 1925 with Alexandre Volinine, Laurent Novikioff and Hilda Butsova. According to historian/author Chuck Davis, when the theatre was demolished in 1940 one of the construction workers found, among the rubbish, a small powder-puff on which “Pavlova” was stitched in faded golden letters.
1895 Venables Street
One of the city's most diverse performing venues, The Vancouver East Cultural Centre (also known as The Cultch) was once the Grandview Methodist Church, constructed in 1909. After the clergy vacated the building, it came into the possession of Inner City Services in 1968 and spent the next five years being shared by the Vancouver Free University and various law offices. It officially opened as a performing arts space in 1973 with a two-week run of the Anna Wyman Dance Theatre. Since then, The Cultch has presented a variety of contemporary dance artists such as Paula Ross, Mountain Dance Theatre, Kokoro, Wen Wei Dance, Lola MacLaughlin, Rubberbandance Group, Noam Gagnon, Paul-André Fortier, La La La Human Steps, Marie Chouinard, O Vertigo and The Holy Body Tattoo. Margie Gillis also launched her very successful solo career here in the 1970s. Renovations in 2008 transformed the building into a modern performance facility complete with better acoustics, more washrooms, a restaurant lounge, a larger box office and the Vancity Culture Lab studio theatre.
719 Main Street
Located on the west side of Main Street at the corner of Georgia, the Avenue Theatre opened April 10, 1911. Although small in stature (the lot was only fifty feet wide), the theatre cost $80,000 to build and had a seating capacity of just over 1,200. Its main purpose was to be a venue for stock theatre companies, such as the Del S. Lawrence company; however, it also saw a fair amount of activity from touring artists and local dance studios. In the first of several visits to Vancouver, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn performed no less than twenty choreographies here on January 29, 1915, and the name “Denishawn” was used for the first time a week after this performance. The children's touring group the Winnipeg Kiddies performed a four-day run of their 1920 revue here, and Anna Pavlova appeared with Alexandre Volinine from January 25-26, 1921. The Avenue was eventually demolished in 1936 to make way for the Murrin Electric Sub-Station.
1805 West Georgia Street
In 1911, hockey legends Lester and Frank Patrick constructed the Denman Arena on the former Kanaka Ranch site at 1805 West Georgia Street. As one of the world's largest indoor rinks, the arena's primary purpose was to house the city's hockey team, the Vancouver Millionaires, as well as occasionally host Stanley Cup championships. Sixteen years later, in 1927, Frank Patrick also built the 2,500-seat Denman Auditorium next door for the purposes of rallies, wrestling and boxing matches. Although the arena burned down in 1936, the auditorium survived the fire and was the site of various dance performances throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In her 1941 tour, celebrated Classical Indian dancer Lilavati performed at the auditorium. Alexandra Denisova (Vancouverite Pat Meyers) graced the stage with two of her original ballets in 1950, joined by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and local dancers such as Gordon Wales and Ray Moller. Later in 1950, Kay Armstrong and Mara McBirney's joint company, Ballet Production Club, held a preview show in preparation for the 3rd Canadian Ballet Festival in Montreal where their group would represent Vancouver. The auditorium was finally renovated into an official concert venue in 1952 and was renamed the Georgia Auditorium before being demolished in 1959. Today the paradise-like land is home to Devonian Harbour Park, and the Vancouver Historical Society has commemorated its vibrant history with a historical interpretation sign.
1022 Davie Street
1022 Davie Street has been an important site of dance activity and entertainment in Vancouver for 100 years. Designed by architect Thomas Hooper in 1911, the building was originally home to M. Lester's Dancing Academy for three decades. Russian dancers Boris Novikoff and Tatiana Platowa, who had a series of studios across the West Coast, also taught dance classes and operated a moving picture studio here from 1917 to 1931. In the 1940s, the building was transformed into a dance hall named the Embassy Ballroom, and in the 1960s patrons of Vancouver's psychedelic music scene knew this space as a rock club called Dante's Inferno (later Retinal Circus). Since 1982 the building has been inhabited by the iconic Celebrities Nightclub.
20 West Hastings Street
Fueled by the success of Vancouver's first Pantages Theatre at 150 East Hastings Street, Alexander Pantages built a second location at 20 West Hastings. Although construction began in 1914, progress was delayed due to the war and the new addition to the Seattle-based touring circuit did not open until June 18, 1917. With roughly 2,000 seats, the theatre was larger and more extravagant than the first Pantages had been, and featured stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Jack Dempsey in its early years. It also received its fair share of important dance activity: Ruth St. Denis, assisted by Doris Humphrey, appeared here in 1917 with Canadian dancer Edna Malone among the cast; and Martha Graham performed Ted Shawn's Xochitl in 1920 and 1921. Alexander Pantages sponsored a Charleston contest in 1925, and ex-Ziegfeld Follies dancer Dorothea May Richardson delighted audiences with her demonstration of the popular dance. The contest winner, Miss Toy Smith, had received just two hours of training from Fenn's Dancing Academy.
With the rise of cinema in the 1920s, the Pantages became a combined vaudeville house/movie theatre that was later renamed the Beacon, the Majestic and finally the Odeon Hastings. Dancers were often scheduled to perform before the films, and Ballets Jooss appeared in 1936 as part of Lily Laverock's International Celebrities series. It was also here in 1938 that Rosemary Deveson and Patricia Meyers successfully auditioned for Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes with Deveson becoming Natasha Sobinova and Meyers, Alexandra Denisova. In 1967, the historic theatre was demolished for a parking lot.
1166 West Georgia Street
Although it was one of many dance schools in Vancouver at the time, the Barbes School de Ballet was advertised as “The Only School de Ballet in BC” in 1920, when it was operating at 1166 West Georgia Street. Directed by Mlle. Belates-Barbes, the school offered toe, classic, step, Grecian, Oriental, eccentric interpretations and ballroom dances. In 1923, a new studio location opened at Alexandra Pavilion (on the corner of Robson and Hornby), and city directories reveal the school changed its name and location frequently throughout the 1920s. Among its various incarnations were the Barbes-Tucker School of the Dance at 804 Hornby, the Barbes School of Dance at 1016 Robson and the Duncan-Barbes Dancers at 2746 West Broadway. In September 1920, the Barbes School de Ballet presented Land of Wonders in Stanley Park. The colourful outdoor revue generated much praise from local newspapers, and among the cast were local dance teacher Mary Isdale and her students plus Aida Broadbent, who went on to become a respected choreographer in Hollywood, on Broadway, and for Theatre Under the Stars.
600 West Georgia Street
When it opened its doors in August 1920, the Allen Theatre at 600 West Georgia was one of the finest deluxe movie houses in Canada, and like many cinemas in the 1920s and '30s it often presented live vaudeville acts before the featured films. With roughly 2,000 seats to offer its audiences, the theatre (renamed the Strand when the Allen chain went bankrupt in 1923) was a favoured venue for European and American touring companies. Among the most famous companies to perform here were the vaudeville troupe Fanchon and Marco, various 1930s Ballets Russes companies, the San Carlo Grand Opera Company, America Ballet Caravan (George Balanchine) and Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre). This theatre also provided a stage for many local artists including Isadore Cohn who performed the Minute Waltz in 1923 after a successful season in New York. In February 1935, the Vancouver Symphony Society entertained alongside Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes; and June Roper's Stars of Tomorrow performances graced the stage here for many years in the 1930s and '40s. In 1973, the beloved Strand was demolished to make way for the Pacific Centre shopping mall.
1255 Broughton Street
By the 1920s Vancouver was rife with dance instructors and demand for ballet lessons was high, partially due to Anna Pavlova's appearances in several of the city's theatres between 1910 and 1924. One such teacher was Mollie Lee who had been teaching dance at the Vancouver School of Expression in 1917 and by 1923 was also operating from this address on Broughton Street (likely her home at the time). In 1921, Mollie Lee and her pupils presented a very successful dance-drama called The Lost Child at the Avenue Theatre. Through a series of dances such as a flower ballet, a gypsy duet and a dance of joy, the production expressed the story of a young girl, Nora, who is stolen by gypsies, and her nurse's frantic endeavour to reclaim the child. Also known as Mrs. Andy Blygh, Mollie Lee had a daughter, Betty Blygh, who would later teach at Kay Armstrong's studio in the 1950s and was coincidentally a cousin to acclaimed Canadian choreographer Brian Macdonald.
303 East 8th Avenue
The building at 303 East 8th Avenue was built in 1922 by the Knights of Pythias fraternity. Half a century later, in 1973, it was acquired by a group of artists who transformed the space into the Western Front Lodge, a shared live/work space and an artist-run hub of avant-garde creative activity. A smooth maple floor on the ground level provided an optimal location for Linda Rubin's Synergy dance studio, and the Western Front became a go-to location for contemporary dance training. Among the dancers who trained with Rubin in the 1970s were Peter Bingham and Peter Ryan, who were also members of Rubin's Synergy Performing Association. New York legends Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer were also among those who performed on the second floor Lux Theatre at the Lodge in the 1970s. As the decade waned, more artists sought independent careers outside of dance company structures; however, they were concerned with their ability to survive independently. Facing this dilemma, Peter Bingham, Jay Hirabayashi, Lola MacLaughlin, Jennifer Mascall, Peter Ryan, Barbara Bourget and Ahmed Hassan combined their individual interests and formed Experimental Dance and Music (EDAM) in 1982. EDAM took over Western Front the following year. In addition to developing its members' careers, EDAM also played in an important role in the development of contact improvisation in Canada. In 1989, Peter Bingham became the company's sole artistic director and EDAM continues to inhabit Western Front today.
884 Granville Street
The Orpheum was nicknamed the “Grand Old Lady of Granville”, this lavish theatre was the biggest vaudeville and movie palace in Canada when it was built in 1927 as part of the Chicago-based Orpheum theatre circuit. Designed by Seattle architect Marcus Priteca (who also designed the second Pantages on Hastings Street), it was the fourth Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver and was often called the “New Orpheum”. A symbol of Vancouver's urban development and progress at the time, the opulent three-storey building featured nearly 3,000 seats, a triple-domed Baroque ceiling, Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers, an elaborate grand staircase and the latest technology including an air conditioning system that used blocks of ice and running water. Its fourteen-foot vertical neon sign contained 1,000 lamps. After its inaugural performance on November 8, 1927, which consisted of a blend of movies and vaudeville, including the “delightful dance delineators” Chaney and Fox, the Orpheum became an important stop for many touring performers over the years. In May 1928, prolific vaudeville dancer Margaret Severn appeared here in a Modern Fantasy with musical trio the Neal Sisters; she would eventually make Vancouver her home. In 1936, the Orpheum hosted Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes, which played to packed houses at midnight performances after the movie-goers had gone home.
With the demise of the vaudeville era at the end of the 1930s, the theatre was used primarily as a movie house owned by Famous Players; however, live events were still occasionally featured. Famous Players' attempt to gut the interior and convert it into a multiplex in 1973 sparked quite an uprising. After receiving more than 8,000 letters and petitions; the City of Vancouver bought the theatre and began a renovation project. As one of seventeen grand movie palaces built by the Orpheum circuit in Canada (and one of a handful to remain relatively untouched), it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1979. It counts the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra among its resident companies and boasts the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame Starwalk on the sidewalk along Granville Street.
801 West Georgia Street
This historic hotel, established in 1927, was the chosen location for Rosemary Deveson's ballet studio when she returned to Vancouver in 1940 after a few seasons performing with the Ballets Russes. At just twenty years old, Deveson opened shop on the twelfth floor penthouse where she taught a number of dancers who would go on to great acclaim including ballerinas Lois Smith and Lynn Seymour. Coincidentally, Boris Novikoff and Tatiana Platowa had also operated a studio out of this hotel in 1929, in addition to their premises at 1022 Davie Street. And later, in 1972, Morley Wiseman's Ballet Horizons held its first annual spring ball in the hotel's Regal Ballroom.
650 Richards Street
650 Richards Street was once the location of Gladys Attree's School of Dancing. Attree, who had emigrated from England in 1914, also operated dance schools in Nelson, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; and Lethbridge, Alberta. In fact, one of Attree's Nelson dancers, Edna Malone, was among Ruth St. Denis's troupe when it made its fourth Vancouver appearance in 1919. Attree's husband, Jack Hirst, played piano for her Vancouver classes, and her step-daughters, Joyce and Phyllis Hirst (known as the Attree Flashes when they toured the Radio Keith Orpheum circuit), were the lead dancers in her shows. (The Hirst sisters would later direct another of Attree's studios in Cotillion Hall at Davie and Granville.) For a few weeks in 1927, the Gladys Attree Dancers formed part of the stage entertainment at the Pantages before its film screenings, and the Vancouver Sun declared that “their stage appearance, costuming and settings vie with some of the best terpsichorean vaudeville productions that have come out of New York.”
1490 Nanton Avenue (previously corner of West 27th and Granville)
Kay Armstrong's first dance teacher, Helen Crewe, taught out of St. John's Hall at this historic church in Vancouver's affluent Shaughnessy neighbourhood. Crewe's studio opened in 1928 as a branch of her New Westminster studio, which had been re-established from its original location in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Crewe offered a variety of dance forms including Greek, ballet, tap, interpretive dance and physical culture. During the summers, she visited the United States and England to keep up with current dance trends, and by the late 1930s Crewe was even incorporating some of Martha Graham's exercises into her ballet classes. In addition to running her own studio, Crewe was the dance teacher at York House School when it opened in 1932, as well as at Glen Brae Academy's kindergarten. Crewe's daughter Joan was also a talented dance teacher and gave Armstrong her first taste of Spanish dance. Joan Crewe Straight would later open her own studio at 603 West Hastings Street.
868 Granville Street
When the Commodore Ballroom (previously the Commodore Cabaret) opened in December 1929, it was one of a handful of venues with a sprung dance floor, lined with horsehair to absorb impact. This feature made it attractive to many dancers who would frequent the space throughout the twentieth century. June Roper's pupils often performed at the Annual Sport of Kings Frolics held each spring by The Turf Club and The Active Club of Vancouver. When Kay Armstrong took over the BC School of Dancing, she continued this tradition and also began producing floor shows here in the late 1940s. Armstrong's own dance teacher, Helen Crewe, had often held recitals here. Because the venues were so close, Armstrong's performers would simply exit through the back entrance of their studio and continue down the street into the Commodore. The Commodore has also been a hotbed of international music superstars such as Sammy Davis Jr., Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey, and since transforming into a major rock 'n' roll venue in the 1970s, it has hosted numerous Grammy and Juno Award winners such as The Tragically Hip, Nirvana, Tina Turner, Oasis, and Lady Gaga, among many others. After closing in 1996 to receive $3.5 million of renovations, the space reopened in 1999 with a new hardwood dance floor.
570 Granville Street
In 1929, and perhaps earlier, 570 Granville Street was the premises of the Del-Roy and Merinoff Dancing Studio. In their newspaper advertisements Charlotte Del-Roy and Nicholas Merinoff (who hailed from Chicago and also worked in Los Angeles and Hollywood) offered classical, stage and screen dancing, including acrobatic, musical comedy, ballet, adagio, tap, Russian and toe, and what they called “Body Beautifying”. Audree Thomas, who assumed the name Anna Istomina while dancing with Léonide Massine's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, did some of her training here and participated in Del-Roy and Merinoff's 1932 “Vodvil Production” along with tap teacher Ted Cawker and others. After Merinoff left town, Del-Roy opened her own ballet-only studio at Granville and Georgia. In 1934, the Granville/Georgia studio became the Vancouver Professional School of Stage Dancing under Lorraine Wootten, while this location was listed as the Pauline Olsen Studio of the Dance by 1936.
1145 West Georgia Street
Although the Vancouver Art Gallery now resides in the former provincial courthouse building at 750 Hornby Street, it spent fifty years in its first home at 1145 West Georgia. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, the gallery was an important space for contemporary dancers in Vancouver after then director Tony Emery initiated a series of free lunchtime performances encompassing all artistic disciplines. It was at one of these lunchtime performances that Anna Wyman Dance Theatre launched professionally in 1971. In this exciting interdisciplinary period, the Gallery also saw performances by Paula Ross, Norbert Vesak, Linda Rubin's Synergy, Burnaby Mountain Dance Company and Linda Rabin.
After the Gallery opened its Hornby Street location in 1983, it continued its relationship with dance. For example, the Karen Jamieson Dance Company performed Necessary Encounter in the Gallery's rotunda in 1998 bringing together modern dance and Northwest Coast mask making.
610 Pipeline Road
Opposite the historic Stanley Park Pavilion sits Malkin Bowl, an outdoor theatre constructed in 1934. Malkin Bowl is known for its summertime musical theatre series Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), which had its first season in 1940. TUTS began when the post-Vaudeville professional dance scene in Canada was in its nascent stages and, in the same vein as Winnipeg's Rainbow Stage, TUTS provided important paid work for dancers in musicals such as The Chocolate Soldier, Brigadoon, Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma. Vancouver's Aida Broadbent frequently travelled from her successful career in Hollywood to choreograph for TUTS sometimes hiring TUTS dancers for work in film or musicals in the United States. In 1963, facing low-ticket sales due to bad weather and competition from the Vancouver International Festival, TUTS declared bankruptcy. A new company, Theatre in the Park, began presenting musicals at Malkin Bowl in 1969 and, in a salute to its predecessors, was renamed Theatre Under the Stars in 1980. The bowl itself was partially destroyed by fire in 1982 and was recently “winterized” for use throughout the fall, winter and early spring.
712 Robson Street
In 1934 Yvonne Firkins and Vivien Ramsay founded the BC School of Theatre at 712 Robson Street, with the desire to direct an institution that was comprehensive of all theatre arts. They invited June Roper, an American vaudeville/adagio dancer who had just relocated to Vancouver, to be the school's first “mistress of the dance”, while other staff included Ted Cawker (tap) and Jerry Mathison (acrobatics). It was here that June Roper began training dancers such as Patricia Myers and Rosemary Deveson who went on to dance with Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes. Meanwhile, on the ground level of the same building (but with an 807 Granville entrance) theatre impresario Lily Laverock ran a theatrical booking office through which she invited talents such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, American Ballet Caravan (George Balanchine) and Ballets Jooss for her series of International Celebrity Concerts that ran from 1921 to the beginning of World War II. The BC School of Theatre was somewhat successful, but unfortunately short-lived. After enrolment in the dance department swelled to over 100 students in the first year, June Roper opened her own studio nearby at 887 Seymour Street and became one of the city's most prominent dance teachers. However, this site saw dance again from 1971 to 1973 when Linda Rubin's studio, Synergy, had its first home on the building's third floor before Synergy moved to the Western Front Lodge.
887 Seymour Street
After teaching ballet at the BC School of Theatre for a year, June Roper branched out and opened her own spacious studio at 887 Seymour in 1935. The entrance to June Roper's BC School of Dancing was nestled just between the back door to the Orpheum Theatre and a fast food restaurant. Here she became known as a “Ballet Starmaker” – a talented teacher with a remarkable ability to produce professional dancers with just a few short years of training. In fact, over seventy of her dancers, including Patricia Meyers, Rosemary Deveson, Ian Gibson, Robert Lindgren and Audree Thomas, went on to careers with professional American and European companies such as the various Ballets Russes companies and American Ballet Theatre. Roper showcased her talented pupils at annual “Stars of Tomorrow” concerts at the Strand Theatre. Although Roper retired in 1941, the school existed under many different directors until at least the late 1950s. Victoria's Dorothy Wilson succeeded Roper in 1941 and, joined by Princess Sylvia Arfa (a Cecchetti teacher and daughter of the Persian ambassador to the Romanoff court), continued to produce professional Canadian talents such as Duncan Noble and Robert Lindgren. Ballet and Spanish dancer Kay Armstrong was also director of the BC School of Dancing from 1947 until 1952. When Armstrong opened her own studio at 835 Granville, Grace Macdonald, a leader of musical theatre in Vancouver, took over the premises, joined by a roster of teachers that included Rosemary Deveson, Heino Heiden and Gloria Forshaw. By 1957, the school was under the sole ownership and management of Lydia Karpova.
2195 East Pender Street
A 1936 Orpheum program for Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes advertises Mary Isdale's studio at 2195 East Pender Street. A Highland dance expert, Isdale had been performing Scottish dances in Vancouver since at least 1908, when she appeared in a production of Rob Roy at the Vancouver Opera House. In August 1920 both she and her students participated in Belates-Barbes's The Land of Wonder in Stanley Park, and Isdale was active throughout the 1930s in various Sun-Ray Revues (children's charity events held annually by the Vancouver Sun). The last trace of Mary Isdale is found in 1957, when she worked with Kay Armstrong on The Legend of the Black Swan.
1445 West Broadway
After succeeding Dorothy Wilson as director of the BC School of Dancing in 1947, ballet and Spanish dancer Kay Armstrong established her own long-running dance studio in 1952. Its first home was in the heart of Vancouver's Theatre Row across from the Orpheum at 835 Granville; however, it moved to this less central location in 1961. (Armstrong also had an additional short-lived studio at 2034 West 41st Ave in the 1950s.) Armstrong was an ambitious artist and, like many throughout the twentieth century, she dreamed of a permanent Vancouver-based ballet company. In 1950 she had formed her own troupe, Le Ballet Concert, which performed Le Rêve Fantasque and Étude at the 3rd Canadian Ballet Festival in Montreal. Étude was later incorporated into the repertoire of The National Ballet of Canada, and her performing group, renamed Kay Armstrong Dance Theatre in 1954, embarked on two tours of British Columbia and Alberta that year. In addition to her teaching and directing activities, Armstrong also choreographed frequently for Theatre Under the Stars and the Vancouver Ballet Society's annual ballet showcases. Armstrong's studio operated continuously for nearly four decades and produced talented dancers such as Peggy Rae Norman, Gordon Wales, Sylvia Palmer, Brydon Paige and Gisa Cole. When it closed in 1989, she continued to teach at a local community centre. Today, Armstrong's BC Entertainment Walk of Fame star sits a few steps away from her first studio on Granville Street.
650 Hamilton Street
When The Queen Elizabeth Theatre was built in 1959, it had been decades since Vancouver had a venue large enough to accommodate touring companies and distinguished artists. After the Vancouver Opera House was sold by the CPR in 1912, it became yet another vaudeville house/cinema that local artists and touring companies were relegated to performing in throughout the '20s and '30s. Plans to construct a multipurpose auditorium as part of a larger civic centre began in 1929; however, the Depression stifled this dream and no further planning ensued until after WWII. After a waiting period of over thirty years, this nearly 3000-seat theatre officially opened as the Vancouver Civic Auditorium on July 5, 1959, with an invitation-only performance by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Queen Elizabeth II endowed it with her name when she attended a performance later that month. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre has since become a major venue for dance artists and companies, partially by allowing many American touring productions to extend their runs beyond Seattle. During the 1970s dance boom, the theatre provided a stage for companies such as Western Dance Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, Vienna State Opera Ballet, Ballet Horizons, Alwin Nikolais, Marcel Marceau, the Bolshoi Ballet and Paula Ross, among others. Today, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is used for performances by the Vancouver Opera and Ballet BC.
600 Hamilton Street
The municipally owned Vancouver Playhouse Theatre opened in February 1962. Originally named the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse, it features similar architecture to the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Theatre, but was renamed the Vancouver Playhouse in reference to the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, which had its home base here from 1962 to 2012. Amid theatre productions, dance has also had its own presence at The Playhouse, both now and in decades past. During the 1960s, Norbert Vesak was The Playhouse's resident choreographer, and artists and companies such as Gisa Cole, Linda Rubin, Pacific Ballet Theatre and Anna Wyman frequented the space. Since 2008, The Playhouse has been used by DanceHouse, a subscription series, founded by Barb Clausen and Jim Smith and intended to bring significant contemporary dance to Vancouver audiences.
With 668 seats, The Playhouse was perfect for their ambitions and their first presentation was Marie Chouinard's bODY rEMIX/gOLDBERG vARIATIONS. The stage has since seen the likes of companies such as Batsheva Dance Company, Crystal Pite/Kidd Pivot, Hofesh Schechter Dance Company, Grupo Corpo, Sankai Juku and O Vertigo, among others. The Playhouse continues to serve as DanceHouse's primary venue.
603 Hastings Street
Pacific Dance Theatre, established in 1964 by Joy Camden and Norbert Vesak, was yet another fleeting Vancouver ballet company. When they formed the ensemble, English ballet teacher Camden was simultaneously running a popular ballet studio in West Vancouver (which she had taken over for Joan Jennings in 1959) while Vesak was a talented dancer and resident choreographer of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre. They eventually rented this space at 603 Hastings to separate company members from the children's classes at Camden's studio. Coincidentally, this is also where Helen Crewe's daughter, Joan Crewe Straight, had previously established a studio. Members of Pacific Dance Theatre included show dancer Patrick O'Hara, and modern dancers Gisa Cole and Paula Ross. Unfortunately, due to a lack of community support, the company folded after less than two seasons. Vesak went on to found the also short-lived Norbert Vesak Dancers (Western Dance Theatre) in 1970.
3488 West Broadway
Following the dissolution of Joy Camden and Norbert Vesak's Pacific Dance Theatre, company member Paula Ross went on to create Vancouver's first contemporary dance company in 1965. The Paula Ross Dance Company moved into 3488 West Broadway in 1972, and the new rehearsal space provided them with a studio theatre in which they could also perform. Although the company often struggled to receive government funding, Ross became well known for her socially and environmentally conscious works such as Coming Together (1975) and Strathcona Park (1980). She won the Chalmers Choreographic Award in 1977. Financial difficulties suspended Ross's studio and company operations in 1987; however, Ross continued to choreograph while teaching at Joy Camden's West Vancouver studio.
456 West Broadway
Before Ballet BC was established in 1986, Vancouver had a series of short-lived ballet initiatives throughout the 1960s and '70s including Maria Lewis's Pacific Ballet Theatre, which operated out of third-floor studios at this location for roughly a decade. A former dancer with The National Ballet of Canada and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Lewis first started the Maria Lewis School of Ballet at the Film Exchange Building on 12th Avenue in 1969. Two years later she formed the Maria Lewis Ballet Ensemble, an amateur performing group consisting of students from her school. By 1974, Morley Wiseman's company Ballet Horizons had disbanded and its board members transferred the legal operations of the company to Lewis, affording her troupe a more professional status. A series of relocations due to flooding and fire moved Lewis's school and ensemble to the third floor of 456 West Broadway in September 1975. Both the school and company were later renamed the Pacific Ballet Theatre and renowned Canadian choreographers such as Brydon Paige, Judith Marcuse and Fernand Nault began creating works for the company's repertoire. By 1980 Pacific Ballet Theatre was facing financial difficulties and Lewis stepped down as artistic director. Renald Rabu, who had been resident choreographer since 1978, directed the company until 1984, and the company became Ballet British Columbia shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, Maria Lewis continued to operate her highly respected school out of this location until her death in 2004.
1036 Richards Street
Formerly the home of the David Y.H. Lui Theatre, and later Richards on Richards, this condominium-lined street was once the site of much theatrical excitement and nightlife. When theatre impresario David Y.H. Lui opened his eponymous black-box theatre in 1976, it was the only privately owned and operated theatre in Western Canada, and Vancouver-native Lui was a driving force in the city's cultural life. As a student at the University of British Columbia in 1970, he co-founded a concert promotion company, Meheigh Productions. Its first presentation, the Phakavali Dancers of Thailand at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, was highly successful and marked the beginning of Lui's role in supporting the dance boom of the 1970s. When Lui became Meheigh's sole operator, it was renamed David Y.H. Lui Productions and he began diversifying Vancouver's professional dance and theatre options by bringing in international contemporary companies such as The Martha Graham Dance Company, Alwin Nikolais, the Joffrey Ballet and Murray Louis. Facing a lack of available theatres in which to present such artists, Lui transformed an old ballroom at 1036 Richards Street into a 325-seat black-box theatre. Its opening gala of music and dance included Louise McNaughton and Craig Sterling of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The theatre later became Richards on Richards, a famous Vancouver nightclub and music venue, which closed in 2009 to make way for condominiums. Among his many accomplishments, Lui was also a co-founder of Ballet BC and key supporter for the creation of the Scotiabank Dance Centre, where the rooftop garden is named in his honour. He also founded Dance Spectacular series (later Dance Alive!). When Lui died in 2011, ballerina Evelyn Hart and critic Max Wyman co-hosted a celebration of his life at The Playhouse.
2345 Main Street
A longstanding Vancouver institution, Goh Ballet Academy was founded in 1978 by Choo Chiat and Lin Yee Goh. The Gohs were Principal dancers with the National Ballet of China (Central Ballet of China) before moving to Vancouver, where Chiat first assumed the role of ballet master for Anna Wyman's company while teaching classical ballet at her school. After its founding, Goh Ballet Academy's first homes were a basement studio and then Arcadian Hall until around 1984. The heritage building in which the Academy now resides in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant area was once a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada. Among many talented exponents of the Goh Ballet Academy is the Goh's daughter, Chan Hon Goh, who was a dancer with The National Ballet of Canada from 1988 to 2009 and assumed the status of principal dancer in 1994. The Goh Ballet's graduates and international competition prize winners now rank in many major dance companies worldwide. Since 2010, Chan Hon Goh has been director of both the Goh Ballet Academy and the Goh Ballet Youth (Ensemble) Company.
1130 Jervis Street
St. Paul's Anglican Church, constructed in Gothic revival style in 1905, provides a home for Jennifer Mascall's company, Mascall Dance. Mascall, a Clifford E. Lee Award and Jacqueline Lemieux Prize winner, was one of the seven founding members of Experimental Dance and Music (EDAM) in 1982 and launched her own experimental company in 1989 at the Festival international de nouvelle danse in Montreal. Mascall's company operates and performs at St. Paul's Church hall, which was added onto the church in 1929 and later extended in 1950.
927 Granville Street
Harbour Dance Centre, named for its original location opposite the harbour on Hastings, was established by Danielle Clifford and Pamela Quick-Rosa, who took over the space from Anna Wyman Dance Theatre in 1985. Now co-owned by Rosa, Clifford's daughter Sabine and Moe Brody, the studio is open seven days a week offering multidisciplinary training in ballet, modern, contemporary, flamenco, belly dance, Bollywood and various types of jazz and urban dance. Since 2007, Brody has also directed an Intensive Training Program for advanced students. Former Harbour Dance students include Stacey Tookey, Donna Feore, Lisa Stevens, Kelly Konno and Tara Jean Popovich (winner of So You Think You Can Dance Canada Season 2). Affiliated companies of the studio include Source Dance Company, Modus Operandi and Kill the Lights Dance Crew.
181 Roundhouse Mews
The Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre was originally part of a cluster of buildings that housed and serviced steam locomotives. The first ten-bay building was constructed in 1888, and the centre eventually grew to be the largest of its kind in British Columbia. With the rise of diesel-powered engines, the centre fell into obsolescence until 1984, when it was restored as a pavilion for Expo '86. When the World's Fair ended, the Roundhouse was dormant once again until it was designated a public amenity and transformed into an arts-oriented community centre. Today, the Roundhouse comprises a black-box performance centre; an exhibition hall; woodworking, pottery and dance studios; a gymnasium; and various multipurpose rooms. It also boasts an outdoor amphitheatre that was converted from the old engine turntable. These features allow the Roundhouse to offer a variety of performances, dance classes and community programs such as the Roundhouse Community Dancers residency, which connects non-dancers with professional artists in a variety of dance disciplines. The centre has also been the headquarters of the Vancouver International Dance Festival since 2007.
2083 Alma Street
Jericho Village, the community shopping centre at 2083 Alma Street, is the home of both Centro Flamenco and Flamenco Rosario. Centro Flamenco was founded by Mexican-born Rosario Ancer and her guitarist husband Victor Kolstee in 1989, after they moved to Vancouver and found a lack of formal flamenco training available. Their company, Flamenco Rosario, followed soon afterwards and the pair became a driving force in the education and promotion of Spanish dance and music in Vancouver. In June 1990 they hosted the first Vancouver International Flamenco Festival at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. The festival is still thriving and celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2015.
777 Homer Street
Initially named the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts, this 1,850-seat, $27 million venue opened in 1995 as a chain for theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky's popular Livent musicals. It was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who had also designed Vancouver's nearby Library Square. Despite Drabinsky's ambitious efforts, which brought major Broadway productions such as Phantom of the Opera and Showboat to Vancouver, the Ford Centre closed within three years due to Drabinsky's legal and financial difficulties. The building was renamed the Centre for Performing Arts in Vancouver in 2001 when it was bought by the Colorado-based Four Brothers Entertainment Company, who wanted to produce “action musicals” for the city's Chinese community. For many years following this sale it was rented out to local and touring companies, including Goh Ballet for its annual Nutcracker performances; however, controversy ensued when the state-of-the-art building was sold to the evangelical Westside Church in 2013. Upcoming performances were cancelled and the sale meant another loss for Vancouver's arts community in an already dwindling supply of mid-sized performing venues; however, some performances do continue to be held at The Centre.
677 Davie Street
This seven-storey, 32,000-square-foot glass tower known as the Scotiabank Dance Centre is one of the crown jewels of Vancouver's dance scene. The idea of creating a multipurpose home for the dance community was conceived in 1986 by The Dance Centre (Vancouver's not-for-profit dance resource organization). In 1995, they created the Vancouver Dance Foundation with the intent to fund, develop and operate such a facility. After fifteen years of planning and fundraising, the dream became a reality. The Scotiabank Dance Centre opened in September 2001, followed by a week-long public celebration called “Let's Dance!” Designed by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, the building was constructed on land donated by Scotiabank and features the original exterior of a 1920s Bank of Nova Scotia building. The creation of the Scotiabank Dance Centre marked a significant contribution to the history of dance in Canada. As possibly the only purpose-built, shared-use facility in North America, the centre provides a home for several diverse dance organizations including Ballet BC, The Dance Centre, Karen Jamieson, Kinesis Dance, Vancouver Ballet Society, Dance International, Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists/West, and many others. With five rehearsal studios, a large studio theatre and various office spaces, the facility offers ample space for classes, rehearsal and performances and receives approximately 60,000 visits annually.
Notably, the corner of Granville and Davie was once the site of other dance studios earlier in the twentieth century, such as Cotillion Hall at 710 Davie Street, which hosted Fenn's Dancing Academy from 1915 to 1930 and Gladys Attree's “Distinctive Establishment of Correct Tuition in the Dance Arts” in the 1930s.
1286 Cartwright Street
Co-founded by artist Carol Henriquez, O.C., and dancer Gloria Schwartz, Arts Umbrella is a multidisciplinary arts education centre for youth aged 2-19. Inspired by a lack of arts education for children, Henriquez and Schwartz initiated the program in 1979, and its pilot year included 45 students in a handful of dance, creative writing, visual arts, film and animation classes. This has since developed into several streamed programs in visual arts, media, theatre, music and dance that reaches over 20,000 students annually. Artemis Gordon, who joined Arts Umbrella in 1991, developed the internationally recognized dance program and leads the Arts Umbrella Dance Company, which is made up of professional and graduate students and offers regular performances in Metro Vancouver and throughout B.C. Since 1983, classes have been held in Arts Umbrella's iconic Granville Island building, a former nail factory and military vehicle storage building re-designed by Henriquez's husband, architect Richard Henriquez.
319 West Hastings
In 1983, Earl Kraul (charter member of The National Ballet of Canada) and Dianne Miller (founding board member of the Dance in Canada Association) established their own downtown studio at 319 West Hastings Street Situated in an old warehouse, the Dance Gallery was 120 feet long by 20 feet wide with dressing rooms and floors constructed by Kraul and partner Grant Strate. The Gallery became a popular studio for morning and weekend ballet classes taught by Kraul, Miller and Strate throughout the 1980s. Although the Gallery discontinued its activities in 1989 (after Miller established her own Pilates studio), Ballet BC made use of the space after its founders had left.
2695 West Broadway St.
Two of Vancouver’s earliest modern dance teachers, sisters Gertrud and Magda Hanova, opened shop at 2695 West Broadway in the late 1950s. Born in Bischof-Teinitz, Czechoslovakia, in 1903 and 1905 respectively, Gertrud and Magda trained throughout Europe and India with various dance artists such as Max Terpis, Mary Wigman, Uday Shankar and Rudolph Laban. After operating dance schools in in Karlsbad, Germany (1922-1932); Bombay, India (1932-1950); and London, England (1950-1957), they immigrated to Vancouver in 1957 and founded their Academy of the Arts. Records indicate that RAD teacher Mara McBirney was also teaching from 2965 West Broadway in the late 1950s. The Hanovas subsequently moved to a studio at Drake and Seymour, where they taught a blend of yoga, Indian dance, ballet and modern techniques from 1960 to 1976. It was here that Anna Wyman took classes from the Hanovas when she first arrived in Vancouver. Although their Drake/Seymour studio closed in 1976, the Hanovas continued to teach in Vancouver into the 1990s.
If you would like to learn more about Vancouver's dance history, check out these books from Shop DCD: