Best Bets on Companies, Studios and Theaters North of the Border

February 23, 2009


Ah Ha Productions

Many Montreal dancers associate improvisation with Andrew de Lotbinière Harwood. (His company name comes from his first and last initials.) Maybe that’s because so many dancers have shared the stage with this well-known improviser or have taken his workshops. A thinker outside the box.

Ballet Flamenco Arté de España

Founded in 1990 by Lina Moros, this flamenco troupe has staged some rousing shows over the years, though too infrequently (one or two a year). Moros gets hands clapping with classical routines; she also throws in experimental modern flamenco that you won’t see in Spain. Accompanying singers and guitarists are so terrific, they sometimes steal the show.

Ballet Ouest de Montréal

Montreal’s only company devoted solely to classical ballet was founded in 1984 by Margaret Mehuys, who directs it with maternal devotion. Her annual production of The Nutcracker is delightful, as are her versions of Sleeping Beauty, Coppélia and a sensitive reworking of Giselle called Giselle D’Ici (Giselle Here and Now) that addresses teen suicide.


For more on this contemporary company, turn to Lyrical, With Je Ne Sais Quoi on p. 70.

Bouge de Là

Founder/choreographer Hélène Langevin leads a dance company that stages delightfully creative shows for children that appeal to their intelligence and sense of discovery. Acrobatics, visual games and verbal nonsense are part of her winning formula.

Le Carré des Lombes


Director-choreographer Danièle Desnoyers gives her contemporary work a formal European look thanks to exposure to European teachers and many recent trans-Atlantic trips.

Cas Public

For more on this contemporary company, see Lyrical, With Je Ne Sais Quoi on p. 70.

Compagnie Flak

Venezuelan-born and Cunningham-trained José Navas was first an elegant dancer of note (he won a 1995 Bessie) before forming Compagnie Flak in 1995. As arguably the most sensuous choreographer in town, Navas didn’t take long finding a large, loyal following in Montreal and abroad. In a complete about-face, he’s recently given up the fanciful lighting, props and costumes of his earlier work and begun creating pure movement choreography of wonderfully imaginative lines amid an atmosphere of calm that invites deep meditation.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard

Winner of a 2005 Bessie, the unique Marie Chouinard creates great, provocative work for her globetrotting modern company, one of Canada’s finest. Chouinard’s studio is a creative hothouse where dancers and choreographers work together in a spirit of great respect.

Daniel Léveillé Danse

Montreal dance utilizes plenty of nudity, but never with the dignity and naturalness demonstrated by some of the recent works of Daniel Léveillé, whose dancers performed undressed from start to finish in his two last pieces. The nakedness and sober choreography emphasize profound humanity.

Danse Carpe Diem

Passionate and sincere both onstage and off, choreographer Emmanuel Jouthe isn’t afraid to get into heavy emotional territory in the works that he’s made for this small contemporary company, where he’s been artistic director since 1999.


Under the enlightened direction of the fine veteran dancer Daniel Soulières, this dance production house gives independent choreographers the chance to choose the dancers they want for their projects. (Soulières hires choreographers, then gives them free rein.) Over the past two decades, some unexpected combinations have brought unusual shows.

Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal

For more on this contemporary ballet company, see Grand Les Grands on p. 68.

La La La Human Steps

The hottest Canadian dance company of the ’80s, this troupe still creates a big buzz whenever it returns home from its extensive world tours. Always one aesthetic step ahead of everyone else, artistic director Edouard Lock invented a movement vocabulary that sent dancers leaping like lightning bolts. His extraordinary muse, Louise Lecavalier, is no longer with the company—though she is still performing—but his other dancers, as always, are wizardly movers. A new work is due in fall 2006.

Louise Bédard Danse

The poetic imagination of Louise Bédard uses movements and decor to create a world of visual symbols. Her most recent contemporary dance work was inspired by German dada art.

Lucie Grégoire Danse

The focus of Lucie Gregoire’s contemporary dances is women, their many roles and their inner emotional world.

O Vertigo Danse

One of Canada’s best-known choreographers abroad, Ginette Laurin stages elaborate works with spectacular visual setups that make you think of surrealist paintings. In 2005, she moved into an immense, beautifully equipped studio right in the heart of the city’s major arts complex, Place des Arts. (See Theaters on p. 84.)


Spending most of his time in Europe, choreographer Benoît Lachambre returns home to Montreal to stage European-like avant-garde performances. His workshops emphasize techniques used in his shows to make dancers and spectators aware of their “poly-sensorial forces.”

Rubberbandance Group

For more on this hot fusion-troupe, see Lyrical, With Je Ne Sais Quoi on p. 70.

Sinha Danse

Roger Sinha combines the strong feet and delicate hand movements of India’s classical dance (he’s half Indian) with modern dance aesthetics in works that captivate with their power and erotic edge.

Sylvain Émard Danse

One of Montreal’s most reliable sources of quality contemporary dance, veteran choreographer Sylvain Émard has lately undertaken a long-range cycle of works inspired by the weather’s turbulence. For the first time in his career, he organized an open call for five spots in the latest installment—some 250 dancers auditioned for six spots.

Système D

Enigmatic is the word to describe works by Dominique Porte, a choreographer in the European intellectual vein who likes to place her dancers onstage amid big video images and familiar-looking props that take on other meanings.


Académie de Ballet Sona Vartanian

Outside the downtown core, this classical dance studio established in 1982 is directed by the formidable Sona Vartanian, a Soviet-trained ballet dancer, who teaches the Vaganova method to children, teens and adults.

Académie Flamenca de Montréal

Opened in 1989, this traditional flamenco school near downtown is run by Sarah Vincent, a Montrealer who spent years in Spain learning flamenco. In 1996, she founded the local performing group Los Flamencos.

Les Ateliers de Danse Moderne de Montréal

Known by its acronym, LADMMI, this school is one of Montreal’s main preparatory academies for those who want to be professional contemporary dancers and choreographers. The facilities, downtown, are first-rate, featuring big, bright studios, dressing rooms, a library resource center and meeting rooms. Invited teachers include some of the city’s best dancemakers, such as Emmanuel Jouthe of Danse Carpe Diem (See Companies on p. 77.)

Ballet Divertimento

Directed by the progressive-minded Susan Alexander, this beautiful downtown school, which has a fruitful, ongoing collaboration with Juilliard, offers high-quality instruction mainly in ballet and modern dance but also some hip hop, flamenco and jazz. Students range from beginners of all ages to advanced students. Master classes are taught by visiting teachers. The facilities include several large, naturally lit studios with sprung floors. The Dance-Study program, conducted in cooperation with local educational institutions, is geared to students who want an intensive dance program while at the same time pursuing high school and junior college degrees. Students, who are selected from leading North American schools by audition, can register for classes at any time during a session. In conjunction with Juilliard, Ballet Divertimento conducts a three-week summer session taught by leading local choreographers who stage an end-of-session show of works created on the summer students.

Les Ballets Classiques de Montréal

This charming old-style dance studio with its creaky wooden floors in a loft-type setting offers Vaganova-method ballet to students of all ages.

Cat’s Corner

Swing and its cousins have a good home in Montreal. At Cat’s Corner, 10 teachers show the Lindy Hop, East Coast, Balboa, the Blues and the Charleston on one of the shiniest wood floors in town. Founded in 1998 by Fred Ngo, self-styled Lindy Hop nut.

Circuit-Est Centre Chorégraphique

Featuring two large, bright studios (one is 40 by 50 feet, the other is 34 by 50), Circuit-Est Centre Chorégraphique is where invited contemporary dance teachers like Belgians Martin Kilvady and Ted Stoffer offer master classes and workshops for pros. Founded in 1987 by leading local dance groups and choreographers who figured, rightly, that they could all benefit by sharing resources.

Conservatoire de Danse de Montréal

The studios may be a bit crude, but it’s the friendly atmosphere that brings beginners and advanced ballet students to do serious work at this school founded in 1997 by dynamic dancer Alexandre Seillier and veteran dancer/teacher Monique Goyer. Staff includes character dancer Sacha Belinsky (Cechetti method) and Seillier’s father, Daniel, whose former students at the National Ballet School in Toronto included Karen Kain.


École Nationale de Ballet Contemporain

Directed by French-born Didier Chirpaz, this school housed in the same building as Les Grands was formerly known widely as the École Supérieure de Danse de Québec (National School of Contemporary Ballet). Chirpaz changed the name in 2004 to make it clear that the classical ballet training also prepared grads to perform modern. The 10-year dance and academic program, for serious-minded kids who know what they want early in life, starts with fifth grade and continues through the end of Quebec’s junior-college system. Selected senior students perform with Le Jeune Ballet du Québec, a company that takes fun trips abroad. Check out the school’s adjoining library, directed by former dancer Vincent Warren—it has Canada’s best dance collection.

Studio Danse Nyata-Nyata

Operated by Zab Maboungou, a choreographer who also authored a brief history of African dance, this studio on the city’s coolest street (Boulevard St. Laurent) offers classes year-round in African rhythms, posture and alignment and a summer intensive workshop in drum and dance. There’s also a two-year professional program for those who want to perform or teach.

Studio Sweatshop

The accent is on breakdance, but classes are also offered in groove, Brazilian funk, gumboot and Pilates. Owner JoDee Allen is a founding member of the city’s terrific all-girl breakdance group, Solid State. This is one breakdance place where B-girls outnumber B-boys.

Studio Tango

An elegant setting makes Studio Tango a popular tango dance club and school near Old Montreal. Bobby Thompson and Carol Horowitz (and their staff) offer expert instruction, while international star Pablo Veron gives occasional weekend courses.

Studio 303

Smack in the middle of downtown, this busy studio offers a variety of advanced-level alternative-style dance classes year-round including Butoh, Pilates, voice-movement, improvisation, holistic dance and workshops with cool choreographers like Rubberbandance’s Victor Quijada. Registration is required for each season’s session, so there’s little chance for drop-in students.

Tango Libre

Proprietor Gerardo Sanchez and his staff offer well-structured tango classes in this intimate, friendly school and club. On weekends, the club’s music ranges from classic to tango nuevo. Sanchez organizes the biannual International Tango Festival featuring star dancers and orchestras. In the summer, Tango Libre offers sensational dancing outdoors in two scenic parks.


Once the heart of Montreal’s tango scene, this school and club lost much of its charm after moving to another location, though its music and performance events still draw crowds.


Concordia University Contemporary Dance Department

A university noted for its practical approach to studies, Concordia offers a three-year BFA in contemporary dance, with classes at its two separate campuses. The downtown campus in the heart of Montreal has two studios, while the tree-lined campus in the West End (about a 20-minute ride on the intercampus bus) has three studios as well as an auditorium, classrooms for studies in dance history and a performance space for a monthly cabaret-style show. The department chair is choreographer Michael Montanaro, and guest faculty include some fine local dancers like Ken Roy.

École Nationale de Ballet Contemporain

(See Studios on p. 82.)

Université du Québec à Montréal
(in French)

One of the main training grounds for contemporary dancers in Montreal, the dance department at UQAM in the downtown area offers BA degrees in both performance and pedagogy, along with advanced courses in choreography (some incorporate master classes by well-known choreographers). Classes are in French. Student performances are held in the school’s Piscine-Théâtre and end-of-term concerts are staged at Agora de la Danse (see Theaters, below), where UQAM’s administrative offices are also found. Among the faculty are Martine Epoque, who in 1968 helped found the now-defunct Groupe Nouvelle Aire, one of Montreal’s first modern dance troupes, and choreographer Daniel Leveille.


Montreal’s dance venues are mainly located downtown, which makes them easily accessible by public transportation.

Agora de la Danse

Situated in a renovated building that also houses the dance department of the Université de Québec à Montréal, this important performance space for contemporary dance has a large performance area, 38 by 47 feet, with a variable seating layout holding up to 345 spectators. Two large rehearsal studios serve independent choreographers.

Bell Centre

The Montreal Canadiens play hockey in this arena, but it’s also the place where you stage your big extravaganza if you’re Michael Flatley.

Corona Théâtre

This ornate European-style theater, built in 1912, was nicely renovated in 1998. The main floor and balcony have a maximum seating capacity of about 800. It’s a popular venue for cabaret-style dance shows, including straight and lesbian burlesque revivals.

Espace Libre

Somewhat outside the downtown core, this small theater has a large, well-equipped stage.

MAI (Montréal Arts Interculturels)

A small, cozy theater for solos or small ensembles, MAI is good for interactive performances. Spectators sit almost close enough to touch performers. There’s a waiting area with seats and adjoining exhibition gallery.

Maison de la Culture Frontenac

Some fine dance shows have found their way to this 350-seat theater, one of Montreal’s municipally operated Houses of Culture. Most notably, for the past two years, the theater has offered a free Dance in Japan show that is eagerly awaited annually at NYC’s Japan Society. Houses of Culture in other parts of the city also host free previews and open rehearsals of local dance shows.

Monument National

Opened in 1893 and renovated in its centenary year, the Monument National has two theaters fit for dance. The Studio Hydro-Québec, a high-tech space seating 125-180, can be adapted into unusual configurations including a theater in the round. The Salle Ludger-Duvernay, with its 804 bright red seats on the main floor and balcony, polished woodwork throughout and restored original ceiling paintings, is among Montreal’s plushest theaters.

Moyse Hall, McGill University

This proscenium-stage theater can accommodate 306 spectators in an elegant setting inside a nineteenth-century building on the McGill University campus.

Place des Arts

Opened in 1963 and patterned after NYC’s Lincoln Center, Place des Arts, in the heart of Montreal, has three different highly equipped venues for dance. La Cinquième Salle is adaptable to the needs of small contemporary dance companies. There are 300 permanent banked seats and the possibility of fitting 117 more seats on the sides to create various configurations. Théâtre Maisonneuve, a 1,447–seat theater, is where Les Grands performs everything except Nutcracker. Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, the city’s premier theater, has 2,982 seats and an orchestra pit for 70. It’s often a venue for large-scale visiting classical dance companies, musicals and the annual Nutcracker performances.

Sala Rossa

With its wooden floor and high ceiling, this old ballroom is put to many uses, including contemporary dance happenings and breakdance contests. A baby grand is available.

Studio 303

A launching pad for young contemporary choreographers, this cool, intimate space is inside a downtown building with several floors of art galleries. It seats about 100 spectators on banked benches. Local and foreign performers create work outside the norm. One recent event, dancers performed in the building’s corridors, landings and bathrooms.


Montreal’s busiest contemporary dance venue has about 100 seats that can be configured in multiple ways around a large dance space. Director Dena Davida can spot important trends before the crowd.

Théâtre Espace Go


Opened just over a decade ago, this contemporary-style theater has movable seats overlooking a large stage. It’s well-suited for dance, though underused.

Théâtre La Chapelle

Intimate and unpretentious, this theater stages small ensembles that like to feel near to their audiences.

Théâtre Outremont

Built in 1929, this European-style theater on a street of elegant shops and cafes was restored in the past decade to its Art Deco magnificence.

Théâtre St. Denis

Many classical music and cabaret greats have performed here since this theater opened in 1916. Renovated in 1991, it has one theater with 2,343 seats and another with 980. Popular for stage musicals like Grease.

Usine C

A well-equipped contemporary-looking theater opened in 1992 with 472 banked seats looking down on a large stage.


Saint Sauveur Arts Festival

The ski resort town of Saint Sauveur, about an hour’s drive from Montreal, hosts a week-long summer festival in late July and early August that brings in a surprising range of guest companies to perform on its temporary stage under a big tent. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago came in 2005. Some faraway foreign troupes like the Prague Ballet and China’s Guangzhou Ballet made their first appearances in Canada here. Even Kirov Ballet star Diana Vishneva has danced here. The 2006 lineup will be announced early this year.

Encore International Dance Festival

A 90-minute drive from Montreal, the city of Trois-Rivières has held an eclectic week-long festival of dance for the past 11 years. Its galas, which take place in the ornate European-style J. A. Thompson Theater, have shown Canadian ballet stars like Evelyn Hart and Rex Harrington along with an unlikely mixture of flamenco, tango and hip hop. Dozens of master classes in various disciplines for dance students are offered during the week. The 12th edition in 2006 is shorter, running June 8-11.

Montreal St. Ambroise Fringe Festival

After 15 years, the 10-day Fringe Festival in mid-June has become a summer staple, offering plenty of wild and unusual dance acts. Up to 20,000 people bought tickets in 2005. Shows have taken place in venues ranging from Théâtre La Chapelle to the municipal swimming pool converted into a performance space. Participants come from near and far (many Americans and some Europeans, too).