PATRICIA BEATTY, C.M.
May 13, 1936 – November 20, 2020
By Michael Crabb
Patricia Beatty was a woman of many parts: dancer, choreographer, artistic director, teacher, poet and author. Her death deprives Canadian modern dance of one of its most fearless, passionate and uncompromising advocates and practitioners.
“This is a huge loss,” says Patricia Fraser, artistic director of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. “Trish was an iconic figure and a true artist to the very depths of her soul. Her spirit will continue to reverberate throughout this entire organization.” Terrill Maguire, who performed several of Beatty’s works, calls her a “Warrior Queen”. “Trish was a pioneer and champion of contemporary dance in Toronto and all of Canada,” says Maguire.
Beatty was born and raised in Toronto. Although she took dance classes as a child with teachers that included Gweneth Lloyd (co-founder of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet), her epiphany occurred at Bennington College in Vermont. Bennington was then a still relatively young private women’s liberal arts school, notable for its progressive insistence on including performing and visual arts within the overall curriculum. Beatty became enraptured by modern dance. Following her 1959 graduation she continued her studies in New York, primarily at the Martha Graham school and with former Graham dancer Pearl Lang whose company she joined in 1960. Beatty returned to Toronto in 1965 and opened her own studio above a garage on Cumberland Street.
“She was always a very inspirational teacher,” recalls York University professor emerita Mary Jane Warner, one of Beatty’s early students. “She was very close to the roots of Graham technique and was very specific about what you did and how you did it.”
Beatty, on a mission to educate the local public, formed the New Dance Group of Canada in 1966. It gave its first performance the following year with David Earle and Peter Randazzo as guest artists. Earle was returning to his hometown after studying with Martha Graham in New York. Randazzo, his American friend, was a former member of the Graham troupe. They aspired to form their own company in Toronto. Beatty suggested they join forces. In 1968 Toronto Dance Theatre (TDT) gave its first performance with co-founders, co-artistic directors and resident choreographers Beatty, Earle and Randazzo as its leading dancers.
Co-operative leadership is not easily negotiated but Beatty managed to hold her own. Apart from choreographing 24 works for TDT she was also unabashedly brazen in asking for money to support the company’s goals.
In founding TDT the trio had simultaneously established a school where Beatty was able to continue her work as a teacher and mentor. The school evolved to become one of Canada’s leading professional modern dance training institutions. Under her tutelage a number of Beatty’s works have been performed in student concerts; and what tutelage! “I’ve never known a choreographer who could coach her own work the way Trish could,” says Danielle Baskerville, a dancer and later personal friend on whom Beatty created her last work, The High Heart, in 2009.
Beatty, tall and impressively statuesque, had been a magnificent dancer.
“I will always remember the luminous dignity of her presence, her phrasing, and her command of the stage space,” says former TDT artistic director Christopher House. “Learning and performing in Trish’s work was a masterclass in choreographic economy and specificity.”
“She never wanted to awe an audience,” says Baskerville. Yet, sometimes Beatty couldn’t help herself. Among her many solos one of the earliest, First Music, 1969, must surely rank as a Canadian modern dance classic. The memory of watching Beatty dance this spare yet emotionally powerful work is indelible.
“It may appear simple,” says Baskerville, “but for any dancer given the privilege of performing First Music, I can tell you it’s one of the most difficult things they’ll ever be asked to do.”
Beatty was also active outside TDT. Always a firm believer in cross-disciplinary collaboration and a devotee of contemporary visual arts and music she produced the ambitious Painters and The Dance in 1983. Two years later, Beatty the writer produced the short but influential Form Without Formula: A Concise Guide to the Choreographic Process, now in its sixth printing.
Choreographically her own work evolved to become more closely aligned with her sense of connection to nature and belief in the importance of what she called “the sacred feminine”. And she continued to touch lives until the end.
“She was such a presence in so many people’s lives in terms of personal growth,” says Toronto dance artist and teacher Nicole Rose Bond. “She was very much a guardian angel and influenced my life in ways I never expected. Trish gave me my passion for teaching. I quote her in every class.”
Among Beatty’s various awards and honours, she was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2004. Along with Earle and Randazzo she was inducted by Dance Collection Danse into the Encore! Dance Hall of Fame in 2019.
“It’s not just that Canada has lost a National treasure,” says David Earle. “The world has never needed such a visionary presence more than at this time. Hopefully, her moving sculpture and equally moving words will continue to offer great inspiration and Hope.”
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