In 1998, a group of concerned ballet enthusiasts, led by Hanne Livingstone (then-owner and artistic director of Edmonton’s Cecchetti Dance Theatre) and Alex McCready, joined together to form a new ballet company The express purpose and mandate for the company was to offer professional-level training and performing experience for all advanced dancers in Edmonton and surrounding area. Application was made and a charter was obtained for the Citie Ballet Society. A board of directors was formed, with Alex McCready as president and members Hanne Livingstone, Sharon McCready and April Trapp. In 1998, William Thompson, who possessed an extensive professional dance background, was engaged as the first artistic director of Citie Ballet. Rehearsals began in September of that year and the new company was launched with an inaugural performance at La Cite Francophone, on November 19, 1999.
Citie Ballet was established as a separate organization independent of any particular dance school. In the early years, the bulk of the dancers came from Cecchetti Dance Theatre. Indeed, many in the local dance community mistakenly assumed that the two organizations were linked, since they shared rehearsal space in the Barre Room of the Jubilee Auditorium. In fact, there were also numerous dancers from other local and regional studios. When the Jubilee closed in 2004 for renovations, Citie Ballet moved to rented studio space at Marr-Mac Dance and Theatre Arts. This separation helped to further establish Citie Ballet’s independence, and with annual open auditions more dancers came from other studios. These studios received proper recognition in Citie Ballet’s performance programs for the training they provided.
In addition, a number of young, emerging Alberta choreographers were offered opportunities to create new original works on Citie Ballet. This also offered the dancers exposure to other styles and methods of working, and further developed their performing skills. The most promising of those choreographers was Solveig Groenland, who created several successful works. Mr. Thompson offered her a staff position as resident modern dance choreographer in 2003.
The repertoire otherwise consisted of excerpts from classical and contemporary ballets, and original works choreographed by Mr. Thompson. Annual fall and spring performances were held until 2004, when a new series was added. Community Spirit was a collaboration inviting a number of local dance schools to participate in a joint fundraiser performance. All ticket proceeds were donated to a different Edmonton youth charity, selected each year by the Citie Ballet Board. This continued annually until 2011, when Community Spirit was replaced by a new series developed by artistic director, François Chevennement. The Mosaic series (Mosaic One, Mosaic Two, etc.) invited new choreographers to create original works and develop new repertoire for Citie Ballet.
As a launching pad to those interested in a professional career, the semi-professional Citie Ballet proved successful in sending several dancers on to eventually achieve their goals. Most notably: Tara Dyberg (Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal), Karissa Barry (Wen Wei Dance, Vancouver) Heather Berry (Toronto Dance Theatre), and Crystal Hartford (Colorado Ballet).
During Citie Ballet’s time at the Jubilee Auditorium, it was able to offer citywide open workshops, with guest instructors from visiting dance companies who were performing there. Until 2005, annual summer schools were also sponsored by Citie Ballet, with an array of international guest teachers including Chan Hon Goh (National Ballet of Canada), Valentina Kozlova (Bolshoi Ballet, New York City Ballet) and David McNaughton (San Francisco Ballet), among others.
With approval from the board, a Citie Ballet website was developed early in 2001. This was to promote awareness of the company and to advertise performances, workshops and summer schools. The success of this early website can be attested to by the number of international inquiries about performing with the company from professional guest artists, and from young dancers wanting to audition or seek employment with the company. Summer schools, in particular, benefited, with students from other parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia wishing to register One registration came from as far away as Australia, from the parents of a young student who was visiting relatives in Edmonton for the summer.
Mr. Thompson announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2005-06 season, and a search committee was formed with Mr. Thompson as an artistic advisor and subsequently as artistic director emeritus. François Chevennement succeeded Mr. Thompson in July of 2006.
Under Mr. Chevennement, Citie Ballet continued to distinguish itself with a consistently innovative slate of productions showcasing promising dancers executing demanding choreography. Each season, Citie Ballet created original work choreographed by Mr. Chevennement, by Ms. Groenland and by such guest choreographers as Europe’s Waldemar Bartkowski. Original works also featured collaborations with local artists of many diverse disciplines from outside the world of ballet.
Notable productions included 2010’s new and contemporary interpretation of Carmen, featuring a modern guitar concerto, and 2011’s Murder At the Strand, a multimedia blend of ballet and can-can, based on an unsolved murder at Edmonton’s famed Strand Theatre, and set in the tumultuous era between vaudeville and cinema.
World premieres included Murder at the Strand, and 2011’s Homage a Górecki, pere et fils (Homage to Górecki, father and son), which honoured the music of the late Polish composer Henryk Górecki, his son Mikolaj Górecki, and two of their contemporaries, Arvo Pärt and Terry Riley.
In 2010, the company based all of its performances at the Timms Centre for the Arts, on the University of Alberta campus. Its rehearsal space continued to be Marr-Mac Dance and Theatre Arts, in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona district.
Just prior to its 2012 / 2013 season, Citie Ballet passed a significant milestone when it graduated from a semi-professional to professional company. This change in status was accompanied by the contracting of an entirely new company of dancers — six in all. They hail from across Canada and, in the case of Mingyi Liang, from China.
After 12 years of tenacious creativity, Citie Ballet has restored to Edmonton something it has not had since 1990, a resident company of full-time professional ballet dancers!
Written by William Thompson, Artistic Director Emeritus.