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Canada's National Ballet School

Toronto, Canada

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Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Established in 1959 by Betty Oliphant and Celia Franca, Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) is one of the world’s foremost training institutions for aspiring young dancers and teachers. Attracting students from across the country and around the world, NBS is the only ballet academy in North America to provide elite dance training, academic instruction and residential care on the same campus. The School’s progressive curriculum, with its emphasis on the physical and emotional well-being of the student, has put NBS at the forefront of dance training internationally.

In addition to the School’s core Professional Ballet Program for students from Grade 6 to Post-Secondary, NBS also offers a full-time professional Teacher Training Program, a part-time Associates Program for children aged 6 and up, part-time classes for adult recreational ballet students, and a host of professional development classes and workshops for practicing teachers. NBS also has an extensive outreach program, which offers opportunities for participation in classroom workshops, free performances at NBS’ onsite Betty Oliphant Theatre and a variety of other options.

Talent is the sole criterion for acceptance into NBS’ full-time programs. Through auditions conducted annually in 20 or more cities across Canada, over 1, 000 students apply for admission to the School’s full-time programs every year. Roughly 150 of these applicants will be invited to join current NBS students for the intensive Summer School program in July, and of these, approximately 50 will be offered a place in the full-time Professional Ballet and Post-Secondary programs.

Fees for the Professional Ballet Program are subsidized through government and private sector funding. In addition, an extensive bursary program is in place in the Professional Ballet Program (Grade 6 to 12 and the Post-Secondary Program) to ensure that no talented student is prevented from attending NBS because of financial circumstances.

The quality of the School’s programs is reflected in the accomplishments of its graduates. Currently, NBS alumni perform in over 65 companies around the world, including The National Ballet of Canada, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet and London’s Royal Ballet.

Mavis Staines, C.M., DHumL, Artistic Director

Mavis Staines was born in Quebec's Eastern Townships and received her ballet training at Canada's National Ballet School.

Upon graduation from NBS in 1972, Staines became a First Soloist with The National Ballet of Canada and then danced with The Dutch National Ballet until an injury cut short her performance career. She subsequently returned to Canada and enrolled in NBS' Teacher Training Program, joining NBS' Artistic Faculty in 1982. She was appointed Artistic Director in 1989.

Staines is now devoted to evolving ballet education by building on the best of traditional schooling while ensuring future professional dancers develop the self-awareness and creativity essential to leading dynamic and innovative careers and lives. She also is devoted to NBS' commitment to bring dance to all members of the community, from aspiring future professionals to those involved in the School's myriad community programs and beyond.

A highlight of the School’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2009-2010 included the AssemblĂ©e Internationale 2009 (AI09), a gathering of 13 of NBS' international partner schools. At the AI each school presented a work from their existing repertoire, and each school supplied a new work choreographed by a student. The student choreographies were performed by a blended cast of students from each of the schools in attendance. The second AI will be held from April 28 to May 04, 2013.

In addition to her accomplishments at NBS, Staines served as juror for the Prix de Lausanne, widely regarded as the world's premiere ballet competition, from 1993 to 1995, and headed the jury as President in 1998 and 1999. In February 2001, Staines accepted the volunteer position of Artistic President Designate for the Prix de Lausanne and in February 2002, assumed the full responsibilities of Artistic President which she held until February 2008.

In 1998, Staines was a workshop presenter at the IOTPD Conference in The Hague, Holland. In 1999, NBS, along with partners in The Hague, hosted the first satellite linked dance symposium, with Staines an impassioned advocate for the project. She has since presented regularly at International conferences, most recently in October 2012 in Stockholm.

Over the years Staines also has served in various capacities with a number of dance-related organizations, including: DANCE/USA, Philadelphia, 1994; Dance Advisory Committee, The Canada Council for the Arts; The Dance Community of Educators, Toronto; and Kala Nidhi Fine Arts of Canada, Toronto. In 1998 Staines won the Toronto Arts Award for the Performing Arts. In November 2006, she was named by the Women's Executive Network as one of Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100, and in 2008 she was presented an Honourary Doctorate in Humanities from Mount Saint Vincent University. In December 2010, Mavis became a Member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of her commitment to the education and well-being of individuals in the field of dance.

Helen Clare Kinney, Student choreographer

Helen Clare Kinney is 19 years old and grew up in San Angelo, Texas. First experimenting with choreography through the Stephen Godfrey Choreographic Workshop at Canada’s National Ballet School in 2008 and 2009, she went on to create Elegy for a Round World for the first AssemblĂ©e Internationale in 2009. Currently a student in the Post Secondary Program at NBS, Kinney sets her most recent piece Lucid Dreaming to an original sound collage including “Dog Show” and “Lighting Out for the Territories” by Laurie Anderson and “Gnossienne No. 1” by Erik Satie. Lucid Dreaming was inspired by her past year, and is an expression of the child-like vulnerability in the human psyche and the dream-like world that we frequent in our private thoughts.

Cassandra Martin, Student choreographer

Cassandra Martin, 16, has created pieces of choreography every year for the past three years for the Stephen Godfrey Choreographic Workshop at Canada’s National Ballet School. Time and Space was choreographed to the music Time, by Indigo. It was inspired by a quote from Albert Einstein who said, "time is an illusion". This states that time, as we perceive it, is not a tangible or realistic concept, but rather a made-up idea, an abstract illusion that does not truly exist. To us, time is a way to measure the duration of events and the intervals between them. However, by breaking this idea down, I hope to increase awareness of the viewer's understanding of time and raise their conscience concerning things that we, as humans, blindly accept every day. 

Olivia Lecomte, Student choreographer

Olivia Lecomte is 16 years old and has been with Canada’s National Ballet School for six years. She began choreographing for the Stephen Godfrey Choreographic Workshop in her Grade 9 Summer School session at age 13; however, her interest for choreography developed much earlier in her first year at NBS. At present, Lecomte has choreographed three pieces on students at the NBS. Her latest work, Fortitude, was inspired by the strength of the mind both intellectually and creatively. In order to reflect these ideas, she says, "my piece is very physically as well as musically demanding in order to challenge my dancers and push their boundaries". The music was written by Kimmo Pohjonen, Kronos Quartet, and Samuli Kosminen entitled, Kalma.

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