World Ballet Day : Behind-the-scenes photographs of the National Ballet of Canada

Lawson documented 25 years of CBC production

With World Ballet Day falling on a Thursday, it’s the perfect opportunity to highlight “Throwback Thursday” photographs of the National Ballet of Canada. The fonds of Robert Lawson, a Canadian Broadcasting Company production designer in the 1950s and 1960s, is an invaluable collection of over 11,000 photographs documenting the early days of Canadian arts on television.

Image of a box with the label Robert Lawson surrounded by slides in plastic sheets.

Slides from CBC filming of the National Ballet of Canada’s Giselle in 1975.

His passion for photography and habit of photographing productions led to many candid shots of artists on set. Lawson first designed for variety shows, but attracted particular recognition for his work in opera, ballet, operetta and plays, working closely with Norman Campbell during the heydey of live television performances at the CBC.

Filming of National Ballet of Canada performances preserved

National Ballet of Canada moments within the fonds include Celia Franca in Romeo and Juliet (1965); Veronica Tennant, Jeremy Blanton and Lois Smith in Cinderella (1968); Erik Bruhn and Lois Smith in Swan Lake (1961 and 1967); and the Karen Kain Super Special (1978); and  La Fille mal gardée (1978).

The fonds of Robert Lawson fonds came to my attention, just last week while pulling material for a visit by graduate students enrolled in DANC 6300: Topics in Dance History & Historiography. The fonds provided an excellent example of why it is important to cast a wide research net. By going beyond the fonds of dancers, choreographers, and companies, researchers can develop a holistic understanding of dance history.

To learn more about Robert Lawson and to see more of his incredible work, please visit the Clara Thomas Archives. The finding aid for the Robert Lawson fonds is available online.

See Toronto Telegram fonds for additional photographs of the National Ballet of Canada. A sample of digitized images featuring Celia Franca, founder of the National Ballet of Canada, is available in the York University Digital Library. See also, special collections for sixty-seven holdings, including pamphlets from 1957, pertaining to the National Ballet of Canada.

The Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections is the second largest dance archival repository in Canada.[1]

[1] Theresa Rowat, Login:danc/se. Study of dance collections in Canada. Circulation draft (Commissioned by the Dance Section of the Canada Council for the Arts, with the participation of the Department of Canadian Heritage (Arts and Heritage Sector), 2000).

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