Without Arts Support Canada Would Lose Its Cultural Identity. (A Matter of Trust)

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Canadian culture is defined by the arts. We risk losing our cultural identity if governments continue to cut funding to art organizations. Without funding, young artists are left with no venue to display and develop their art forms for the world to enjoy. Ingenuity and unique art forms are what drive Canada's art scene to flourish. With the help of private benefactors, government, and young talented artists, Canada can take its rightful place in the global cultural arena. Speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto, May 13, 2002.

As many of you know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of another well-known Canadian institution, one with which I have been associated for more than 30 years.

Since long before I joined its ranks, the National Ballet of Canada has been considered one of the brightest jewels in our country's cultural crown. The dream-child of the remarkable and redoubtable Celia Franca, the National Ballet has, from its inception, stood not just for excellence in the art form of ballet, but for the excellence of Canada, too, as an idea and a reality.

Wherever it has performed -- whether at home or abroad -- the accolades the company receives are reflected back on the country that created, nurtured and sustained it. The National Ballet has always been proud to bear Canada's name, and transmitting something of the values and spirit of the country to our audiences has always been part of who we are and what we do.

My career with the company started in 1969 when I was 18. That was an extraordinarily exciting time in the dance world, as it was for Canada as a nation. A strong and almost palpable sense of national purpose, of possibility, pervaded all the arts, as well as the country as a whole. There was a feeling of change, of celebration in the air and it gave to the performing arts in particular an exhilarating sense of discovery.

I was fortunate to have attended the National Ballet School, which provided me then, as it continues to provide students today, with the finest ballet training the world has to offer. I was fortunate as well to benefit from a perhaps unique configuration of forward-thinking artistic directors, fellow artists, mentors, government support and private benefactors.

This gave me the chance to develop and refine my own art and also to share my accomplishments with audiences as tar afield as Europe, Russia, and China. It allowed me, and the company, to forge important artistic links with such phenomenal talents as RudolfNureyev, John Cranko, and Rolant Petit.

These were incredibly valuable and rewarding experiences, both personally and professionally. They helped give the National Ballet an international profile and provided a huge boost to a still young company's artistic self-confidence, from which everyone, including myself, benefited.

But this international exposure gave me something else, too. It gave me a sense of perspective on my own country. Being able to see first-hand what other cultures and other dance companies were about made me realize what an extraordinary achievement the National Ballet really was.

In a matter of only two decades -- which is, in cultural terms, the blink of an eye -- this company rose from being one woman's wonderful improbable dream to dancing on the greatest stages of the world. The vision and passion of a handful of individuals, along with the commitment and foresight of an enlightened public policy towards the arts, had created a ballet company that could take its place along the finest anywhere. I was, I realized, part of a miracle.

And so, in 1976, when Roland Petit invited me to join the renowned Ballet de Marseilles, I decided to decline his offer. Needless to say, that would have been a wonderful experience Roland was a dear friend and one of the most gifted choreographers of his generation. Dancing with his magnificent company would, in many ways, have been a dream come true. …