York’s living treasure

The Japanese call them “living treasures”. They are those artists who embody the traditions of the past and pass them along to new generations of apprentices.

Grant Strate (right), the founder of York’s Dance Department and a Canadian “living treasure”, is the 2005 winner of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from CORPS (Council of Organized Researchers for Pedagogical Studies) de Ballet International, the professional organization of ballet teachers who are dedicated to the development, exploration and advancement of ballet in higher education. Strate accepted the award on June 25 at the organization’s annual international conference, held at the San Francisco Ballet School.

“The lifetime achievement award is given in recognition of a person who has, over a long period of time, made a significant contribution to the development of the art and teaching of ballet in higher education,” said Sharon Oberst, a board member with CORPS de Ballet International.

Penelope Reed Doob, who currently chairs York’s Dance Department, attended the event to deliver a citation about Strate’s importance to the dance world. She was joined by York dance faculty Claire Wootten, Jen Bolt and Terrill Maguire.

“Grant Strate is the father of dance in Canada – a compelling performer, a distinguished choreographer, a demanding yet kindly teacher, an effective advocate for the arts, a visionary university administrator, and a deeply loved ambassador for dance throughout the world. Now nearing 80, he continues to inspire us with his energy, wisdom, and optimism,” said Doob.

Strate, a charter member and the first resident choreographer of the National Ballet of Canada, left the company in 1970 to establish the Dance Department at York University. Known nationally for the strength and excellence of its teachers and programs, the department has nurtured many notable dance professionals, including Patricia Fraser (BA ’75), Denise Fujiwara (BFA ’79), Christopher House (BFA ’79) and most of Dancemakers’ initial members.

During his tenure at York, Strate continued his involvement in the larger dance community and his advocacy for the development of the art of dance and dance education in Canada. He chaired the board of directors of Dancemakers during the company’s formative years. As founding chair of the Dance in Canada Association, he organized the first National Dance Education Conference in 1973 at York University. He brought together choreographers, composers, dancers and musicians in mentored creative ‘hothouses’ through a series of national choreographic seminars. The first one was held at York University, followed by seminars at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Simon Fraser University.

Strate moved to Vancouver in 1980, serving for nine years as director of the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, followed by a five-year stint as director of the school’s Summer Institute.

A prolific choreographer, Strate has created more than 50 ballets for dance companies in Canada and internationally. He has guest-taught across North America and Europe, including at New York’s Juilliard School and the Laban Centre in London. Since first travelling to the Beijing Dance Academy in 1986, he has returned to China several times to teach, choreograph and serve as a consultant.

Since his retirement from the SFU Summer Institute in 1994, Strate has continued to contribute to the advancement of dance of all kinds, in all areas of the world, as president of the World Dance Alliance-Americas. The World Dance Alliance (Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific) will hold its next Global Assembly at York University in July 2006, with a theme of dance and multiculturalism.

The respect that Strate commands in the dance world is evident in the many honours he has received, including the Chalmers Award for Creativity in Dance, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the Canada Council’s Jacqueline Lemieux Prize and the Order of Canada.

Now, as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Strate joins a distinguished company of laureates including: William F. Christensen, a recognized pioneer in the world of dance and co-founder of the San Francisco Ballet Company (2000); Violette Verdy, one of the premier ballet dancers of the 20th century who dedicated her post-performance life to training future generations of dancers (2001); George Zoritch, a former member of the Ballets Russes who danced in 18 film musicals and taught for 14 years at the University of Arizona (2002); Francoise Martinet, former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and the New York City Opera Ballet, and an internationally acclaimed teacher and adjudicator (2003); and Miguel Terekhov, principal dancer and regisseur of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, who developed a ballet curriculum at the University of Oklahoma and founded the Oklahoma Festival Ballet (2004).

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.