Canada lost one of its great dames of dance on April 11th. Eva von Gencsy is the ballet dancer who fell in love with jazz dance, pioneering the hybrid dance technique of ballet-jazz and co-founding Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal in the early 1970s.
Hungarian by birth, von Gencsy immigrated to Canada in 1948 from Austria, where she had enjoyed an early career as a principal dancer in the Salzburg Landes Theatre. In Winnipeg she joined what was then the Winnipeg Ballet (later renamed the Royal Winnipeg Ballet) and obtained a teaching diploma from the Royal Academy of Dance. Von Gencsy later moved east to join Les Ballets Chiriaeff (later Les Grands Ballets Canadiens) in Montréal, performing on stage and in frequent television appearances.
Beginning in the late 1950s, von Gencsy’s naturally exuberant personality led her to fall in love with jazz dance and she studied with Luigi and other New York City jazz masters. In 1962 she founded her own school in Montréal and, at the invitation of choreographer Brian Macdonald, she taught jazz at the Banff School of Fine Arts until 1975. She founded Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal with former student Eddy Toussaint and dancer Geneviève Salbaing. She served as its artistic director and choreographer until 1979, before moving on to freelance teaching and choreography. Von Gencsy drew worldwide recognition for ballet-jazz through her teaching at universities and schools across Canada, across the US and Europe. She continued to teach movement classes up until her death, including a series of therapeutic movement classes for cancer patients, and a special class hosted by BJM (Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, rebranded several years ago) on March 2nd, 2013, during the all-night festivities of the Nuit Blanche citywide event.
On April 3rd she gave a speech at the Cinémathèque introducing a film on Les Ballets Jazz celebrating its fortieth anniversary and is reported to have experienced heart failure at that moment. She was admitted into Montréal’s Hotel-Dieu Hospital, but died one week later, in the early hours of April 11th. Eva von Gencsy leaves no surviving family members.
A memorial celebration open to all will be held at L’Ecole supérieure de ballet du Québec, 4816 Rivard St., Montréal on May 10th at 5pm. Donations in Eva von Gencsy’s memory may be made either to L’Ecole supérieure or to Hôtel Dieu’s Cardiology Department.