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Lawrence Gradus (1936-2014)

By Samantha Mehra
  • Lawrence Gradus / Photo by David Hou
  • Lawrence Gradus / Photo by Pierre Denault, courtesy of Dance Collection Danse
  • Members of Entre-Six (Lawrence Gradus on far right) / Courtesy of Dance Collection Danse

On January 7, 2014 the dance community lost revered dance artist, choreographer and educator Lawrence Gradus – he was seventy-eight.

Gradus played a pivotal role in several prominent dance institutions in Canada including Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Theatre Ballet of Canada and Entre-Six. A New Yorker by birth, his early interest in movement took the form of tap-dance training and classes with teachers from Radio City Music Hall when Gradus was a teenager. He was accepted on scholarship to the American Ballet Theater School, where he trained under famed ballet mistress Valentina Pereyaslavec. Gradus joined American Ballet Theatre and became a soloist, touring with the company in Europe and the United States. Later, after brief seasons with both the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (1956) and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (1957), he joined Jerome Robbins’ Ballets U.S.A. in 1959 where he enjoyed further touring and commercial appearances.

After taking part in Montreal’s Expo 67, Gradus joined Les Grands Ballet Canadiens as a soloist in 1968 and later co-founded Les Compagnons de la danse with Ludmilla Chiriaeff. Gaining momentum as a dance artist and choreographer, he began working with Montréal dance educator Jacqueline Lemieux with whom he co-founded the company Entre-Six in 1974. Gradus received the 1975 Jean A. Chalmers Choreographic Award. In 1980, Gradus continued his directorial pursuits and became the founding artistic director of Theatre Ballet of Canada, where he remained until 1989.

Gradus was a celebrated director and performer, but also a notable educator and choreographer, and in these capacities collaborated with training and post-secondary schools such as the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ont., Ryerson University in Toronto (for which he reconstructed one of Entre-Six’s works), and the National Ballet of Canada’s outreach program. Gradus also collaborated with Canadian dance companies such as the Toronto-based Danny Grossman Dance Company where he created When Night Falls in 1999.

Before his passing, Lawrence Gradus penned his autobiography Wings on My Feet: A Dancer Remembers. It chronicles his decades of memories and leaves us with the thoughts and experiences of a consummate Canadian dance artist.

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