It was the year 1987, Canadians were introduced to the new $1 coin, nicknamed loonie, the world lost legendary artist Andy Warhol, and Canada’s Ballet Jörgen (CBJ) began its dance journey to becoming one of Canada’s top ballet companies.
The movie Dirty Dancing, a cult hit classic was released; Janet Jacksons Control was a Billboard success and Whitney Houston belted her voice to the world in I wanna Dance with Somebody. It was the highlight period of the 80s and dance was hot.
It was during this time in 1987 that Bengt Jӧrgen, a classically trained ballet dancer, and his partner Susan Bodie, spirited with passion and desire decided to commit to their vision and form Canada’s Ballet Jӧrgen to support the development and dissemination of Canadian choreography. The founding Board of Directors was composed of dance luminaries William B. Harris, K. Corey Keeble and Karen Kain. Since its inception, CBJ has exclusively danced works created by the company itself.
In the fall of 1987, CBJ’s first public performance took place at the Main Dance Centre in Vancouver, followed by premier performances in January 1988 in Toronto.
Initially, CBJ contracted dancers on a project-by-project basis drawn from a variety of ballet companies and independent artists. In 1989, CBJ began to operate with its own dancers and by 1990 it had evolved to a chamber ballet company with eight dancers, an Artistic Director and a part-time Administrator. The company also introduced composition workshops into its season and began to offer commissions to a diversity of choreographers from across Canada.
The company’s first full-length ballet was The Nutcracker which premiered in Fredericton, New Brunswick on November 1st, 1995. This was followed with the première of an original version of Romeo & Juliet, co-produced with The Banff Centre for Fine Arts to celebrate CBJ’s 10th anniversary in 1997. The largest production in the repertoire, Swan Lake, was created for the company’s 25th Anniversary season opening in Markham, Ontario on September 28th, 2012. The company’s most recent full-length, a Canadian inspired Sleeping Beauty premiered on October 2nd, 2015 in Burlington, Ontario. Over the last 28 years, Canada’s Ballet Jӧrgen has produced a total of 216 original creations by 80 choreographers, including eight full-length ballets and five works created especially for children.
In 1989, CBJ began an association with George Brown College that has been the home of the company ever since. In 1992, CBJ and George Brown College entered into a formal partnership to jointly develop and grow the dance programs at the College.
Today George Brown Dance is one of the largest post-secondary dance institutions in Canada and several of the company’s dancers have trained there.
CBJ began touring in 1992 and today reaches more communities with more dance programming than any other organization in Canada. Every season, the company performs coast to coast. Since 2007, Halifax, Nova Scotia has become a second home allowing CBJ to serve that city and province as a home community. CBJ also has major programming centres in Ottawa, Hamilton, and The Waterloo Region in Ontario and, since 2016, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. To date CBJ has reached 305 communities, including 246 within Canada and 59 in the US.
In 2009, CBJ expanded its vision to include a broad range of community and education settings leading to rapid growth in programming. With 11 national education programs and a range of community initiatives, CBJ is effectively bringing dance experiences to new audiences in record numbers. For its impact on dance in Canada the company was awarded National Arts Centre Award for Distinguished Contribution to Touring 2011 and is the BC Touring Council Artist of the Year Award Winner in 2009 and 2013.
In 1989, Arnold Spohr, long-time Artistic Director of The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, was appointed Artistic Advisory and then Associate Director in 1993. Arnold Spohr made a lasting impression on CBJ as a mentor to Artistic Director Bengt Jörgen and in the development of an artistic culture that has helped shape CBJ’s unique identity on the Canadian dance scene.
CBJ prides itself on bringing dance to communities that engage, educate and empower talented dancers to follow their dreams and pursue dance by participating in performances and working with professional dancers.
Donations & Public Support
The company, through the support of donations and gifts-in-kind is able to continue to provide high level training, produce numerous company generated shows and competitive education taught by esteemed instructors with the love for dance. These donations come from local participants, private entities, corporations and government.