Artistic direction

Curriculum at NBS has been evolving since the School’s beginnings. Under Betty Oliphant, the Cecchetti tradition formed the basis for training. Recognizing the value of other major schools of thought, however, she began early on to incorporate elements of the French, Russian and Bournonville traditions. This exposure resulted in versatile dancers who easily adapted to the challenges of a variety of choreographic styles.

When Mavis Staines took the helm, re-visiting the curriculum became her priority in order to meet the changing demands of the profession and take advantage of the latest science on conditioning and anatomy became her priority. With the variety of viewpoints represented at NBS, Staines sought to ensure that all ballet faculty members contributed to the creation of the new pedagogic approach. The NBS system of training that resulted represents the best practices of the profession today, but it is not static. It is a living curriculum that continues to evolve.

Betty Oliphant and Cecchetti

As a teenager, Betty Oliphant was introduced to the Cecchetti method of ballet training, a codified system developed by master teacher Enrico Cecchetti primarily for training professional dancers. The system appealed to her because it was logical and its technical demands revealed clearly whether or not its exercises were being properly executed. Oliphant was a highly respected teacher of the system and an examiner for the Cecchetti Branch of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) when she co-founded NBS. As a result, the School’s original curriculum was deeply rooted in the Cecchetti method.

Mavis Staines and a Revitalized Curriculum

As a graduate of NBS and the Teacher Training Program, as well as a former dancer with The National Ballet of Canada and The Dutch National Ballet, Mavis Staines had a deep understanding of the requirements and constraints on professional dancers by the time she became Artistic Director in 1989. Recognizing the need for adaptation in the face of changes in the profession, she took strides to revitalize the curriculum to meet the contemporary demands of a career in dance. Throughout the curriculum's revision, she recognized the importance of including all ballet faculty members in its creation. Not only does Staines continue to value the perspectives of faculty and other professionals, she also seeks to give students a voice and to engage them in the affairs of the School.

Erik Bruhn and the Bournonville School

Erik Bruhn was a superb exponent of the Bournonville style and considered one of the greatest male classical dancers of the twentieth century when Betty Oliphant was introduced to him in 1965.  After their initial meeting, he became a frequent and much loved guest teacher at the School. This relationship deepened when he became Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada and continued until his death in 1986.

Eugen Valukin and the Russian School

Interested in exposing NBS’ faculty and students to other pedagogical approaches to classical ballet training, Betty Oliphant invited Eugen Valukin, a young dancer and teacher with the Bolshoi Ballet and School, to visit NBS as a guest instructor. He came in 1963 for a two-month intensive session that was well received by NBS students and teachers alike. He returned in 1977. 

Watch the video of Eugene Valukin at NBS below.

Peggy Baker and Modern Dance

In 1989, Mavis Staines invited Peggy Baker, an iconic figure in Canadian modern dance, to teach as a guest in the School. In 1992, she became the School’s first Artist-in-Residence. In this position, Baker developed a unique modern dance curriculum that complements the students’ ballet training. It ensures that they have the versatility needed to thrive in today’s environment in which classical ballet companies perform contemporary works that incorporate a wide variety of movement vocabularies. She remains an integral member of the School’s faculty. 

Watch the video of "Peggy Baker: Four Phrases" below.

Irene Dowd and the Physiology of Dance

In 1991, Mavis Staines invited Irene Dowd, a highly respected specialist in functional anatomy, to work with the faculty on developing a scientific approach to training that would facilitate the development of the broadest range of motion in each individual student. Dowd’s principles were incorporated into the new curriculum and she continues to inspire the conditioning program at NBS. The access to movement that results from her approach builds strength while helping to avoid injury and contributes to the development of the students’ artistry by adding expression to their dancing through clarity of movement.

This video provides a look at Eugen Valukin's time as a guest instructor at NBS. Video copyright the Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Peggy Baker: Four Phrases by Howie Shia, National Film Board of Canada

In this hybrid animation and documentary, Peggy Baker explains the transformative power of dance.