Feature Articles

Mavis Staines to retire as Artistic Director of the National Ballet School after 35 years of Leadership

Mavis Staines. Photo by Johan Persson.
Mavis Staines. Photo by Johan Persson.

Mavis Staines, Artistic Director of the internationally acclaimed Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) since 1989, will be retiring from the role in June of this year. As only the second Artistic Director since the School’s founding in 1959, Staines has guided the organization through evolutions, with a stated and proven focus on inclusion, community and dancer health.

Staines’ involvement with the National Ballet organizations has been lifelong, starting with her training at the School and subsequent employment as a Soloist with The National Ballet of Canada, then her education through NBS’s teacher training program, her employment as a faculty member with the School, her appointment as its Artistic Director, and finally her additional appointment as the CEO in 2011.

Mavis Staines.
Mavis Staines.

Having seen the organization from so many angles and through so many iterations, Staines had a unique understanding of its culture. As she shaped its potential to become one of the world’s leading pre-professional ballet schools into reality, she understood the NBS’s responsibility to affect the culture of ballet training within its own walls, and then worldwide. This challenge was not small, and is an ongoing and ever-evolving task, given the ballet world’s fondness for tradition.

Some of the changes Staines implemented were as simple and as effective as eliminating weight scales in the School; the practice of weighing dancers had previously been routine. Staines instead developed partnerships with athletic scientists, nutrition experts, and physical and mental health professionals. Simple changes lead to milestones. In 2022, NBS was officially designated a Research Institute by the Government of Canada, supporting evidence-informed practice and giving students the resources and support teams needed to train like the Olympic level athletes they are.

Staines also prioritized opportunities for students to develop choreography and leadership skills, as well as develop their artistic voices around social justice issues. She advocated for “nurturing the whole dancer.”

Through and in addition to her role as Director, Staines founded several initiatives that continue to impact the local Toronto and wider global dance communities.

The Assemblée Internationale, founded by Staines in 2009, for NBS’s 50th anniversary, is a ballet education festival that draws dancers and directors from pre-professional training schools around the world. NBS hosts training, rehearsals, performances, and discussions about the evolving culture and challenges of high level ballet training, such as dancer health, audition processes, and most recently during the 2023 Assemblée, anti-Black racism in ballet.

Mavis Staines.
Mavis Staines.

Outside of her role at NBS, Staines has had consistent involvement with the Prix de Lausanne, first as a juror, then jury President, and then as Artistic President until 2008. Notable wins include the development of health policies and screening processes to ensure that competitor candidates were not only healthy enough to endure the physical and mental demands of competition, but that the scouting schools who offer scholarships through the platform of the Prix met the same standards of health and wellbeing on top of the quality of their offered training.

Other initiatives by Staines through NBS include:

The Sharing Dance Program, which offers community dance programs for children, adults and people with diverse physical, developmental and sensory needs, secured through multimillion dollar funding by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Symposium Addressing Racialization in Ballet, which, in partnership with the Dance Institute of Washington and Lauri Fitz-Pegado, had its inaugural event in 2022, focusing on solution-oriented discussions of equity, diversity and inclusion in ballet.

The International Audition Pre-Selection Guidelines, which holds the goal of standardizing audition video content and format for company auditions globally, to ease the cost and workload of auditioning dancers.

The Company Life Program, which acts as a segue to the professional dance world for pre-professional students by pairing the rigorous daily demands of life in a ballet company with the supportive environment of an educational program.

Mavis Staines with a student.
Mavis Staines with a student.

Other associations that recognize Staines’ involvement include Dance/USA, The Dance Advisory committee for the Canada Council of the Arts, and The Dance Community of Educators in Toronto. Among other awards, Staines received the Order of Canada in 2010, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013, both in recognition for her contributions in the field of dance and dance education.

Staines will remain involved with NBS and will continue to advocate for the priorities she presented during her time as Artistic Director. While there is a shortlist of candidates to take over the role (gathered from an extensive international search), the school’s next Artistic Director is yet to be announced. Says Staines, “I’m excited because it’s clear that this shortlist are people who believe that now is the time that we really need to continue championing the importance of addressing anti-Black racism in how ballet is practiced.”

Staines hopes that her successor continues to cherish the importance of dance within community and society, as well as the school’s original Professional Ballet-Academic Program. “I hope for an understanding that artists should be supported and guided to develop their own voice and learn to use those voices responsibly and creatively to ensure that the quality of art, and the ways in which that art is shared, continues to reinforce why dance and ballet are central to people’s well-being. I hope that the incoming Artistic Director will always remain excited about scrutinizing behavioral patterns and training practices, all of which to say, traditions. I’m going to lean into one of my favorite expressions, that what is essential, exciting and most creative, is constantly reflecting on whether you’re cherishing the master’s fire or guarding their ashes. I hope for that to be front and center, along with the power of intergenerational brainstorming, so that it’s full circle. Leadership galvanizes when you have the opportunity to listen and to champion, not to advise or constrain.”

By Holly LaRoche of Dance Informa.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top