Jeanne Renaud - Dance Collection Danse

Jeanne Renaud - Dance Collection Danse

conductor Reginald Stewart. In the

summer and early fall the concerts ran

every week offering orchestral music

with affordable ticket prices. While

these performances were usually popular,

it was the single concert of the

year featuring the Volkoff dancers that

not only sold out but attracted hordes

of people. With 4,800 seats, Varsity

Arena actually held 7,580 people at

Volkoff’s first Promenade Concert

appearance on October 18, 1934.

Although scheduled for 8:30 p.m., the

arena was completely full by 8:00 p.m.

Once the seats ran out, people sat on

the floor of the arena. No one seemed

to care about the discomfort. The

Telegram reported, “The audience

wanted more and yet more of this

characteristic and beautiful work of

Boris Volkoff and his students.” This

instant popularity clearly contradicted

the later myth that Toronto audiences

were so stodgy and puritanical that

interest in dance had to be painfully

developed over years if not decades.

Admittedly, one of the major reasons

people flocked to see the Volkoff

dancers was to see Volkoff himself. In

early years, his photos as a boisterous

Russian peasant appeared in Toronto

newspapers. Volkoff strutted in his

embroidered ethnic costumes and soft

boots and thrilled audiences all the way

from the Russian Charity Ball to Sir

Ernest MacMillan’s

children’s concerts.

His specialty was

the gopak, the

Ukrainian men’s

dance which featured

wild leaps

and spins. It was a

chronic crowd

pleaser and usually

ended in cheers

and calls for an

encore. He also

shamelessly dabbled

in schlock. In

a June 1935 Prom

concert, he took

Russian sentimentality

to its limits

in a dance comedy

with “the Shirley

Temple of dance”,

Irma Dorfman.

But Volkoff did

balance his programs.

There were almost always two

classical pieces for each presentation

and he did try experimenting with

modern dance as early as his 1932

concerts. In the 1935 shows, he had

his dancers wear black sheeny costumes,

while patterns created by

designer Fred Coates on a “colour

organ” rippled on a white backdrop.

From the start, Volkoff choreographed

Pauline Sullivan in Volkoff’s Mala, 1936 Berlin Olympics

all his own dances and always used

serious music: Chopin, Schubert,

Sibelius, Bach, even the sometimes

dissonant and abstract Bartok.

As his company was now the only

fully established dance group in

Canada, he was able to take advantage

of an invitation to the Internationale

Tanzwettspiele in July 1936,

which was directly tied to the Berlin

Volkoff students in recital at Hart House Theatre, 1933

Photo: From Boris Volkoff Collection, Toronto Public

Library (TRL)

No. 62, Fall 2006 7

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