Three dance scholars with research interests in the National Ballet of Canada will present their views about the renowned ballet company at the third annual Selma Odom Lecture on Wednesday.
Established in 2010 to honour the contributions made by York dance Professor Emerita Selma Odom, the lecture takes place April 25, from 3 to 5pm, in the McLean Performance Theatre on York’s Keele campus.
The presenters, Carol Bishop-Gwyn (MFA ‘90), Allana C. Lindgren (MA ‘97) and Samantha Mehra (MA ‘08), alumni of York’s Graduate Program in Dance, will present different viewpoints about the classical ballet company, which was founded by Celia Franca in 1951.
Author, journalist and educator Bishop-Gwyn delves into the Canadian social climate in her talk, “Celia Franca and the Concept of a ‘National’ Canadian ballet company”. In the optimistic, but culturally under-developed Canada of the 1950s, Franca’s role as the founder and first artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada provides an excellent entry point for an analysis of the heightened demand for Canadians to have a voice of their own in the art form, posits Bishop-Gwyn. Franca’s support of home-grown talent and her insistence on national tours, despite the vast distances and paucity of proper facilities and audiences, showed a fundamental difference in approach from other regions of Canada about a model for a ballet company.
Bishop-Gwyn is the author of The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca (2011). She has taught courses at York University, Ryerson University and the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, in addition to working as a broadcaster and producer for CBC National Radio and as a freelance magazine writer.
A professor of theatre at the University of Victoria, Lindgren explores how the National Ballet of Canada presented normative gender identities in her lecture “Gender Cues: The National Ballet of Canada’s Marketing of Masculinity and Femininity in the 1950s”. Using American sociologist Bryan Turner’s The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory (2008) as a starting point, Lindgren demonstrates the falseness of the imaged boundary between society and the art form. She argues dancers’ bodies are sites where social issues, including acceptable gender roles, are expressed through corporeality.
Lindgren is the author of From Automatism to Modern Dance and co-editor with Kaija Pepper of Renegade Bodies: Canadian Dance in the 1970s. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications including American Journal of Dance Therapy; Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories; Canadian Theatre Review; The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society; and Theatre Research in Canada.
In her presentation “Pen Pointe: The Multifaceted Relationship between Toronto Newspaper Critics and the National Ballet of Canada”, Mehra looks at the relationships between newspaper coverage and commentary about the National Ballet of Canada and its artists, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. She investigates the nature of the relationships between critics such as John Fraser, Penelope Reed Doob, Michael Crabb and William Littler, their publications and the National Ballet. Mehra asks how distant or enmeshed these relationships were, and what were their roles in solidifying the National Ballet as a cultural institution? Based on her research into Toronto’s dance critic culture, Mehra highlights significant connections between critic and company, pointing towards the multifaceted role of the Toronto dance critic as reviewer, journalist and champion of certain Toronto companies and artists.
Mehra is a dancer, writer and emerging dance scholar and historian who is currently pursuing doctoral studies in dance history at York. She works in development at Dance Collection Danse, writes for The Dance Current and has presented her scholarly work at international conferences.
The Selma Odom Lecture takes place Wednesday in the McLean Performance Studio, 244 Accolade East Building. Admission is free and the talk will be followed by a reception.
A dance scholar and educator, Odom was a leading figure in Canadian dance studies and a mainstay of York’s Department of Dance for almost four decades. She has retired from full-time teaching to devote herself to her research and writing projects.