14 november 2012

The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca, by Carol Bishop-Gwyn


In 1951 Celia Franca arrived in Toronto from London, England, responding to the invitation to establish a major ballet company.
Photo courtesy of Cormorant Books

At this time of year, plans are being made and tickets bought for the holiday ritual of The Nutcracker. This ballet can be the inspiration for a life of dance.  But at the beginning of Canada’s Centennial year, 1967, the Vancouver debut of Celia Franca’s version with the National Ballet, was in jeopardy. The dancers flew from Toronto where they’d just closed the show on December 31st.  The sets and costumes were on a freight car that had been sidelined as it crossed the country.  ‘Unwilling to accept the situation as hopeless, Celia had phoned the only person in Canada with the power to save the situation by sending out an air force plane on a rescue mission.’  Paul Hellyer, then Canada’s Minister of Defence, agreed to Mission National Ballet, and a Hercules plane was dispatched from Cold Lake, Alberta.  Any other form of transportation would not have gotten all the necessary props and costumes to Vancouver on time.  On January 4th the curtain went up in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, to a full performance of The Nutcracker.  Celia Franca was never afraid to ask!
This is just one of the many stories about a woman, dance historian Carol Bishop-Gwyn, refers to as one of Canada’s cultural pioneers.  In 'The Pursuit of Perfection" Bishop-Gwyn reveals Celia Franca’s life from her birth in east-end London, England, to her decline and death in Ottawa, 85 years later.  Nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award this year, the book is a great read, providing a glimpse into Canada’s past, and all the other people that helped build a company that continues to thrive today. 

Carmel Kilkenny spoke with Carol Bishop-Gwyn, about Celia Franca’s pursuit of perfection:
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