WINNIPEG — The man who put the Royal Winnipeg Ballet on the international dance map has died.
Arnold Spohr was the RWB’s artistic director from 1958 to 1988.
His friend and caregiver, the choreographer Stephanie Ballard, said that Spohr died at 1:30 a.m. Monday at the Tuxedo Villa nursing home. He was 86 and had been incapacitated for several years.
"It was time," Ballard said. "He passed away very peacefully."
The cause of death had not been confirmed, but Ballard said that Spohr’s kidneys had been failing and that he had been on dialysis three times a week for almost four years.
"He was made of steel," she said. "He was a giant. There was no one like him. He gave Canadian dance an identity."
His biographer, Michael Crabb, called him "a volcanic force for good in Canadian dance."
"And it wasn’t just Canada," Crabb said. "Wherever you went and the subject of ballet came up -- Russia, Cuba, Australia – people would ask, ‘What about that wonderful man in Winnipeg?'"
Though Spohr’s death is sad, Crabb says, it is also a time to celebrate.
"My God, what a life he had," Crabb said. "He didn’t miss a thing."
Ballard says a private funeral will be held in the coming days and that that she and the RWB will be organizing memorial events in Winnipeg and Toronto.
"We don’t know when yet," she said. "But it will be sooner than later."