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Meet The Artists

Biography

Boris Volkoff

ice ballets / Volkoff Canadian Ballet

(1900-1974)

Although Boris Volkoff was born in Russia, he is often called the “father of Canadian ballet” because of the enormous impact he had on the development of dance in Canada. As a teacher, he trained numerous Canadian performers who had professional careers. As a choreographer, he created over 350 original dance works during his career in his adopted country.

After dancing with several companies, including the Moscow State Youth Ballet and the Shanghai Variety Ballet, Volkoff joined the company of former Ballets Russes dancer Adolph Bolm in the United States.

In 1929, Volkoff entered Canada to work at Loew's Uptown Theatre in Toronto. He opened his own ballet studio in 1931. In 1932, he created full-length versions of Swan Lake and Prince Igor for the Toronto Skating Club. These “ice ballets” made him famous, but he declined an opportunity to move to New York to stage similar works in order to focus on developing ballet in Canada.

In 1936, Volkoff and his dancers represented Canada at a dance event immediately preceding the infamous 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, held under the auspices of the Nazis. Despite the controversial nature of these games, this event became one of the first times a Canadian company of dancers performed internationally, and garnered them one of five honourable mentions at the event.

Two years later, Volkoff named his troupe the Volkoff Canadian Ballet. It was arguably the country's first ballet company, although the Royal Winnipeg Ballet holds the title of longest-running Canadian dance company. The Volkoff Canadian Ballet was one of the three dance groups to participate in the inaugural Canadian Ballet Festival in 1948.

A year before his death, Volkoff was honoured for his contributions to Canadian culture when he was named a Member of the Order of Canada. His papers are housed in the Theatre Section of the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library.

Learn more:

Collier, Clifford. “Boris Volkoff: Father of Canadian Ballet.” Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories. Eds. Selma Landen Odom and Mary Jane Warner. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse Press/es, 2004: 145-151.

Warner, Mary Jane. “The Russian Influence on Dance in Toronto.” Estivale 2000: Canadian Dancing Bodies Then and Now / Les corps dansants d’hier à aujourd’hui au Canada. Ed. Iro Valaskakis Tembeck. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse, 2002: 111-119.