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Focus on Women: Dolores Kirkwood, Artistic Director, Royal City Youth Ballet Company
Written by Fresh Vancouver   

ballet ensemble on stage

Classically trained ballet dancer and musical theatre star, Dolores Kirkwood is perhaps best known as the multi-award-winning Artistic Director of the Royal City Youth Ballet Company. For nearly a quarter of a century, the company has given rising young dancers the ability to perform and delight audiences throughout the Lower Mainland. Mrs. Kirkwood spoke with Fresh Vancouver about how it all came to be...

The Road to Royal City

“When I was four, my mother took me to Josephine Slater, who was my ballet teacher until I started dancing professionally. I was in a couple of small ballet companies; then, I discovered musical theatre. My first professional show was Little Mary Sunshine with Theatre Under the Stars (back when it was a professional company). My favourite was Hello, Dolly!, which I performed with five different companies as Dolly Levi. I opened my own studio when I was 18. I also spent years putting on school musicals, including 20 years at Terry Fox Secondary in Port Coquitlam. I thought nothing of going out to the football field, picking out three or four guys, and saying I want you for rehearsal today!”

Auspicious Beginnings

“The Vancouver Ballet Society used to hold regular Sunday dance gatherings – people who were serious about dance, as I was. Twenty-four years ago, I was talking to Donna Fishwick about those days... and she said let’s do it! So Donna and I and other interested people formed a board. Our first performance as a company was a sold-out performance of Coppélia at the Shadbolt Centre – which has 300 seats! We decided we should do The Nutcracker at the Shadbolt, then were asked to do shows in Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, Surrey and so on.”

Royal City Today

“Our aim is to train dancers in the classical forms and teach them classical roles. We are a traditional, classical ballet group, but we also do modern dance as well as musical theatre. I always say, if you want to be a dancer, this is the place to find out! Some can’t handle all the work; others are hooked. We have turned out so many dancers in professional companies all over the world who got their first classical experience with us.”

Twenty-three Years of The Nutcracker

“This is our twenty-third year doing The Nutcracker, and it changes every year. Last year our newest addition was a Chinese dance influenced by David YH Louie (founder of Ballet British Columbia) who always came to the dance. He bought me a five-foot tall Nutcracker, and I wanted to do the same this year, but he passed away last month.”

Awards and Accolades...

“When I was inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, the ceremony was at the Orpheum theatre. As a little girl, I grew up watching every vaudeville show that came to the Orpheum. I dreamed that I would be the next Ginger Rogers on that very staircase! I became a member of the Order of BC in 2009. I think all of us who have received that order feel very humbled by it. When I got the call about receiving the Sam Payne award, it was such a dream. I kept thinking, is that really me? It seemed such an unreachable goal. I am very fortunate to have been given these awards.”