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In Memoriam: Grant Strate (1927 - 2015)

By Kate Morris
  • Grant Strate (1968) / Photo courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada

Grant Strate, often dubbed the elder statesman of Canadian dance, passed away in his home in Vancouver on Monday evening. Strate’s achievements are incalculable because his contributions share one quality: they endure and continue to create impacts on dance in Canada that are beyond measure.

With the encouragement of Celia Franca, in 1951 Strate became a charter member of the newly founded National Ballet of Canada. In the years that followed, he created numerous works for the company, while also fostering relationships with internationally acclaimed choreographers and teachers, among them British choreographer Anthony Tudor, French choreographer Maurice Béjart, Graham luminaries Bertram Ross and Helen McGehee, and Robert Cohan, founder and artistic director of London Contemporary Dance Theatre. In this respect he was outward looking and internationally savvy, while also devoted to the development of dance here in Canada.

Such relationships informed his lifelong interests in creative research through dance and dance education. In 1970, he became the founding chair of the department of dance at York University (a first of its kind in Canada). Recognizing the importance of fostering creativity, he founded the National Choreographic Seminars which took place in 1978, 1980, 1985 and 1991, inspiring creative collaborations that are still affecting the dance landscape in Canada. In 1973, he co-founded the Dance in Canada Association, the country’s first service and advocacy organization for dance. From 1980 to 1989, Strate directed the Centre for Interdisciplinary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver where he remained in various roles until his retirement in 1994. After which he continued to teach ballet in Vancouver, most notably a Sunday morning class at Harbour Dance Centre.  

In a recent article published in The Dance Current, founding member of Dancemakers in Toronto Carol Anderson described Strate’s visions of the “thinking dancer” and the “wandering scholar” as prescient for the “nomadic study/work life of dance artists.” Strate served as chair of the board of Dancemakers shepherding the company in its early years. As Anderson writes, “in his visionary, pragmatic way, Strate built a foundational choreographic cauldron form of dance education that was anti-academic, yet astutely housed by academe, as a new form of creative research. This has proved nothing short of brilliant because the dance scene in Canada has been advanced, enriched and irrevocably changed for the better by his imprint and energy.”

For his tireless commitment to and lifelong career in dance, Strate received numerous official awards and distinctions as well as the admiration and adoration of peers and colleagues. Such accolades include the Jean A. Chalmers (1993), Order of Canada (1995), the Vancouver Dance Foundation Award (1995), the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (1996) and an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University (1999).~ 

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