Gweneth Lloyd began social and fancy dancing at age thirteen. She loved to dance and was determined to make it her career. She attended the Liverpool Physical Training College and during her first teaching job she reconnected with movement when she became interested in Ruby Ginner's Revived Greek Dance. Historian Anna Blewchamp argues that it was the emphasis on expressivity and musicality in the Revived Greek Dance that characterized Lloyd's choreography. In 1924, Lloyd left her job to study with Ginner full time. She complemented this training by studying Cecchetti and RAD ballet technique eventually becoming an examiner for the RAD. In 1926, Lloyd and a colleague opened a school in Leeds where she befriended a student named Betty Hey (later Farrally). The two immigrated to Canada settling in Winnipeg in 1938. Betty was 23, Gweneth, 36.
Upon their arrival, the pair opened the Canadian School of Ballet. There was an ample supply of dance teachers in Winnipeg in 1938, but Lloyd and Farrally wanted to contribute more than yet another training facility. They realized that to really foster ballet's development in their new prairie home, they needed to educate potential audience members. Within months of their arrival, they initiated the Winnipeg Ballet Club and offered free tuition to anyone accepted; they also held monthly lecture-demonstrations open to the public. They soon connected with a dynamic jack-of-all-trades named David Yeddeau. This "holy trinity", so called by later Royal Winnipeg Ballet artistic director Arnold Spohr, formed an unstoppable team that brought ballet to new heights in Canada. Lloyd was the choreographer, Farrally the rehearsal director and Yeddeau added experience in set design and construction, wardrobe and make-up, and stage management.
Following the performance programming developed by impresarios such as Serge Diaghilev, Lloyd decided she would create programmes that offered a mixture of white ballets, comic ballets along with a taste of the avant-garde. Anna Blewchamp describes Lloyd's process in The Encyclopedia of Theatre Dance in Canada, "Lloyd was one of few choreographers who could visualize complete works before she began rehearsals. She would listen to the music and write her ballets, sometimes with casts of over twenty dancers, with musical measures noted against her own personal notation of descriptions, ballet, national and Greek dance terminology, floor plans and figure drawings." Lloyd created truly Canadian ballets using Canadian themes in such works as Grain (1939), Kilowatt Magic (1939), The Shooting of Dan McGrew (1950) and Shadow on the Prairie (1952); using Canadian designers such as Robert Bruce (Dionysos, 1945) and Joseph Plaskett (Visages, 1949); and using Canadian composers such as Walter Kaufmann (Visages) and Robert Fleming (Shadow on the Prairie).
In 1948, the "holy trinity", along with Toronto teacher/choreographer Boris Volkoff, initiated the Canadian Ballet Festivals. The six festivals, presented in various Canadian cities between 1948 and 1954, brought a new popularity to ballet in Canada. The chief goal was to create an environment in which Canadian dancers could earn a living in their own country. This goal was reached in 1951 when Winnipeg Ballet dancers began receiving a small wage. Later that same year, the National Ballet of Canada made its debut. By 1952, dancers were making a living performing on television in Toronto and Montreal, and later Vancouver. By 1957, the Canada Council had formed and was funding the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada and Montreal-based Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.
Mixed in with all of this activity was Lloyd's work establishing a ballet department at the Banff School of Fine Arts. She initiated a ballet program within the Theatre Division in 1947; ballet became its own division in 1957. By the time Gweneth Lloyd left Banff in 1967, she and Farrally had resettled in Kelowna, British Columbia, having opened a new branch of the Canadian School of Ballet. Lloyd received numerous awards for her contribution to Canadian culture including the Order of Canada in 1969 and the Governor-General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement just months before she died in 1993.
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Dance Collection Danse would like to acknowledge that the land on which we work is the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Métis, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. It has been a site of human activity, including dance, for at least 15,000 years and we are grateful to all the caretakers, both recorded and unrecorded, of this land and of Turtle Island. Today, the meeting place of Toronto is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work and dance in the community, on this territory.