Ludmilla Chiriaeff


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(b Riga, 24 Jan. 1924; d Montreal, 22 Sept. 1996)

Latvian-Canadian dancer and ballet director. Founder of the Montreal-based company Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. She studied in Berlin with Alexandra Nikolaeva, and after dancing with Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes (1936) as an apprentice, she performed with Fokine, Massine and at the Berlin Opera Ballet (1940–1). During the Second World War she was sent to a Nazi labour camp, but escaped to Switzerland, and in 1949 founded Les Ballets du Théâtre des Arts in Geneva. In 1952 she moved to Canada and became one of the most influential figures in Montreal's emerging dance scene. As well as opening her own school she began choreographing for Canadian television (1952–7), creating dozens of ballets for the small screen with her own troupe, Les Ballets Chiriaeff. In 1955 her company also began to perform in theatres and in 1957 became known as Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Chiriaeff choreographed many works for its repertoire, which mixed new and populist works with the classics. Her 1962 staging of Cendrillon (mus. Mozart) was Canada's first original full-length ballet. She also encouraged Canadian designers, composers, and choreographers to work with the company, in order to create a genuine French-Canadian identity for it. The company made its US debut in 1959. One of Chiriaeff's most significant productions was Stravinsky's Les Noces, which she choreographed in 1956 and then remounted in 1973. She retired as director in 1974 but continued to run the company's two schools. Companion of the Order of Canada (1984). Nijinsky Medal (1992).

Subjects: Dance.

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