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Latvian-born Ludmilla Chiriaeff started her dance career in 1936, under the stage name Ludmilla Gorny, as an apprentice with Les Ballets Russes du Colonel de Basil. Two years later, she became a member of the Nollendorf Theatre in Berlin, and later also danced with the Berlin Opera. From 1941 until the end of World War II, Chiriaeff was interned in a Nazi labour camp. After the war, she moved to Switzerland where she started a new company, Ballet des Arts.
In 1952, Chiriaeff and her family immigrated to Canada when she was eight months pregnant. She started a school in Montréal and gathered a group of dancers under the name Les Ballets Chiriaeff. The group performed her choreography on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) new French-language television station. Les Ballets Chiriaeff was arguably the first ballet company ever created specifically for television.
In 1957, Chiriaeff renamed her company Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (later renamed Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal). In addition to her television work, she began to present stage concerts. Chiriaeff also established a professional school for the company in 1966. In 1975, she stepped down from her position as artistic director of the company to concentrate on the school.
Chiriaeff developed one of the first public high school ballet courses in Canada and helped to create a college level dance program as well as a program for elementary school children.
Chiriaeff's devotion to the development of ballet in Montréal earned her numerous awards. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1969, an Officer in 1972 and received the highest ranking of Companion in 1984.
Howe-Beck. Linda. “Ludmilla Chiriaeff’s Passion.” This Passion: for the love of dance. Ed. Carol Anderson. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse Press/es, 1998: 161-165.
Smith, Cheryl. “Stepping Out: A New Look at Canada’s Early Ballet Companies, 1939-1960.” Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories. Eds. Selma Landen Odom and Mary Jane Warner. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse Press/es, 2004: 197-224.