Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba ballet dancer performed in China

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After captivating audiences worldwide for 50 years, Manitoba-born ballet dancer Bill Martin-Viscount, 71, died peacefully Jan. 8, leaving behind an international legacy with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and a wide range of ballet organizations.

He was principal dancer with the RWB for 11 years and he was the first western artist invited to perform in China after the Cultural Revolution.

Born in Libau in 1940, Martin-Viscount first took dance lessons in Selkirk at age 11. There, he was noticed by then-director of the RWB Arnold Spohr, who invited him to enrol with the RWB as a student.

Martin-Viscount only spent a couple of years as a student before he joined as a principal dancer with the company at only 15 years of age.

"Dancing was my destiny," Martin-Viscount told the Selkirk Journal in 2008. "So much so that I did it for another 50 years."

Martin-Viscount spent more than 15 years with the RWB and his performances were featured in Forty Years of One Night Stands, the 2008 video documentary on the history of the company.

After leaving the RWB in 1967, Martin-Viscount continued to dance, travelling around the world and performing for a variety of dance organizations as a guest dancer.

He was also the first western artist to be invited to perform in mainland China after the Cultural Revolution. While in China, Martin-Viscount taught, choreographed and performed in more than 30 productions and helped elevate a number of dance companies that are enjoying success today.

Martin-Viscount also performed with London's Festival Ballet and was presented to Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1963.

After touring Japan, Australia and New Zealand, he formed the Southwest Ballet Center and The Fort Worth City Ballet in 1972. There, Martin-Viscount performed, taught, staged, jurored and choreographed worldwide for a number of years. Martin-Viscount hung up his ballet shoes at 66 years of age, stepping away from an extraordinary 50-year career in dance.

"Generally speaking, a male dancer's career is 12 to 15 years and I have done three-plus that, so I have been very, very blessed," said Martin-Viscount in an interview with The Christian Broadcasting Network.

"In addition to dancing, I learned how to choreograph and stage productions and do the whole gamut, so it has given me a good career of 185 world tours," Martin-Viscount told CBN.

A memorial service for Martin-Viscount will take place today at 1 p.m. at the Gilbart Funeral Chapel at 309 Eveline St. in Selkirk.

Officials with the RWB referred all comment on Martin-Viscount to artistic director André Lewis, who could not be reached Sunday night.

jordan.thompson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2012 B3

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