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May 7th, 2024

Diving into the vibrant legacy of Ludmilla Chiriaeff - A talk rich in memories

Ludmilla Chiriaeff: a name that evokes passionate energy, tireless dedication and a legacy that transcends generations. At a recent talk organized in her honor by the École supérieure de ballet du Québec, five panelists who knew her well shared their memories and reflections on this emblematic figure of the Quebec dance world: Jean Grand-Maître, Katia Mead, Jacques Drapeau, Christine Williams and Anik Bissonnette, as well as host Judith Ouimet. Audience members also shared their personal and touching anecdotes. Here's a glimpse of what was said at this event presented at the Studio-Théâtre des Grands Ballets on International Dance Day 2024.

An unforgettable charism

It was clear from the outset that Ludmilla Chiriaeff was not content to take the easy road. Her spellbinding charisma and ability to unite individuals left an indelible mark on all those who crossed her path. As several panellists pointed out, she was more than just an authority figure; she was a force of nature who knew how to inspire and guide those around her.

She was also a formidable businesswoman," explains host Judith Ouimet, who recounts how Ludmilla Chiriaeff never hesitated to approach politicians directly for funding... right up to Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau, whom she approached at a cocktail party.

Giving ballet a place in Quebec

One of Ludmilla Chiriaeff's most significant battles was that for the acceptance of classical ballet in Quebec. Faced with reluctance and even criticism from certain conservative quarters of society, she demonstrated an unshakeable determination to elevate this art form within Quebec culture. In the early 1950s, children attending Madame's classes would hide under a sack so as not to show their bodies! Devout Catholics even wrote to the Vatican to complain about her showing her legs on TV! These obstacles never stopped her, however, and she did her utmost to tame this environment and bring dance to as many people as possible. Years later, she would proudly present one of her works at St. Joseph's Oratory, a symbol of the great evolution in morals and the success of her perseverance.

Teaching as a mission

Beyond her impact on the artistic scene, Ludmilla Chiriaeff left an indelible legacy in the field of dance education. Christine Williams, who not only studied with her but also worked alongside her as a teacher, recounts that the woman known as Madame developed a method and syllabus that have served as a foundation for many generations of dancers. She saw many avenues of development for her young dancers, whether as performers, teachers or choreographers. Anik Bissonnette also emphasizes her openness to other dance forms - contemporary, jazz, folk - and other artistic disciplines. Her students have fond memories of her generosity, compassion and commitment to their personal and professional advancement. artistique.

Regional dance development

Ludmilla Chiriaeff had an ambitious vision for the development of dance throughout Quebec. Jacques Drapeau remembers how important it was to Ms. Chiriaeff "that it be local people dancing, for local people." She opened new doors for young dancers, bringing world-class recruitment and training opportunities to their doorstep. The classes and exams she gave in cities such as Quebec City, Chicoutimi, Rimouski, etc. testify to her desire to spot and nurture talent wherever it may be. By touring regional schools, Ludmilla Chiriaeff not only discovered new talent, she also inspired a new generation of dancers from Quebec and beyond.

A vision that transcends time

What stands out most in this talk is Ludmilla Chiriaeff's bold, humanistic vision. She was not content to train talented dancers; she aspired to create a community where everyone felt valued and encouraged to reach their full potential.

Jean Grand-Maître recalled with gratitude his acceptance at the École supérieure, when he was 17-18 years old and had only one year's dance experience. Ludmilla Chiriaeff not only gave him professional ballet training, she also instilled in him the confidence to pursue his dreams as a choreographer! "At the end of my training, she said to me: Everything they've taught you here, you don't necessarily have in your legs, but you do have in your head. And she encouraged me to become a choreographer." This story is a testament to Mrs. Chiriaeff's ability to recognize potential in others and encourage them to realize it.

Her conviction that dance was a universal language capable of transcending cultural boundaries still resonates today. Her daughter, Katia Mead, remembers: "She had a passion, she had a vision, but above all, she had a mission. She loved to give and to help others grow."

Conclusion: a tribute to the life and work of Ludmilla Chiriaeff

Reflecting on Ludmilla Chiriaeff's legacy, it's clear that she was much more than a creative company and school director. She was a visionary, an educator and a humanist whose influence continues to be felt throughout the dance world. Her passionate dedication to her art and her ability to inspire others remain an inspiring example for future generations.

The École supérieure warmly thanks Les Grands Ballets for its generous welcome to its Studio-Théâtre.

Photos : Collection de la Bibliothèque de la danse Vincent-Warren

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