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Eva Von Gencsy. (Olivier Wecxsteen)
Eva Von Gencsy. (Olivier Wecxsteen)

Obituary

Dancer Eva von Gencsy’s legacy is all that ballet-jazz Add to ...

She formulated ballet-jazz by adding classical vocabulary to what she learned from Luigi, Jojo Smith and Phil Black in New York. For example, in jazz dance, feet are parallel, but she used turnout. “Students had to have strong ballet technique to do her class,” says her former dance assistant Michèle-France Cloutier. “Eva’s control was amazing. She could hold her balance on demi pointe and talk at the same time.”

It was Mr. Toussaint who first had the idea of establishing a company and a school. Ms. Von Gencsy brought in former Les Grands Ballets dancer Geneviève Salbaing, and the triumvirate established Les Ballets-Jazz Contemporains. Mr. Toussaint and Ms. von Gencsy were artistic directors, Ms. Salbaing the administrator.

Right from the beginning there was friction, and Mr. Toussaint bowed out in 1974. Ms. von Gencsy followed in 1978, and for the next 35 years, maintained her very active freelance teaching career. Always a class act, she never spoke about the breakup.

Mr. Toussaint (and other loyalists) maintain that Ms. von Gencsy was pushed out of the company, claiming that he and Ms. von Gencsy wanted to maintain the polished rigour of ballet lines, while Ms. Salbaing felt that the only way that the company could grow was to make the repertoire more commercial by opening up the dance style. According to Sylvie Normandin, Ms. von Gencsy’s executrix, in later years, there was a rapprochement between the two: “Eva did forgive Geneviève when they were both little old ladies.”

Everyone who knew Ms. von Gencsy came to love her, both for her charm and her sunny disposition. For Mr. Robitaille, “She was like a sweet, naive little girl who was always just discovering the world. Her favourite expression was ‘Everything is beautiful!’ All of us knew that it wasn’t true, but Eva believed it.”

The love of freedom Ms. von Gencsy carried into her dance permeated her life. Mr. Macdonald’s wife, former Les Grands ballerina Annette av Paul, was also on the Banff staff. She remembers Ms. von Gencsy flying her kite on the mountain. “She loved to see the kite soar,” said Ms. av Paul, “and her personality was like that. She was a survivor, no matter what.”

Ms. von Gencsy was married for 10 years to a fellow Hungarian who loved to race cars. Ms. Normandin said: “They divorced after 10 years because Eva didn’t want to be a wife. She wanted to dance, and dance was more important than any man.” The couple did, however, remain friends.

On a romantic note, Ms. von Gencsy was a cougar before it became fashionable, conducting discreet love affairs with a series of beautiful young men. In Mireille Dansereau’s 2003 documentary film, Eva, Ms. von Gencsy is asked whether she ever wanted children, to which she famously responded, “Yes.” (beat) “Stuffed!”

Long-time friends, such as retired dance librarian Vincent Warren, recall her gracious, old-world charm, like sending notes after being invited for lunch, or actually taking the time to write letters, decorating the envelopes with little coloured hearts and flowers.

Mr. Warren relates an amusing von Gencsyism. The two were often ballet examiners together, and whenever Ms. von Gencsy knew that a group of boys was next, she would put on lipstick. Her vanity carried over into the studio. Her various leotards all had matching shoes. “The curtain was never down for Eva. She was always on stage,” Mr. Warren said.

Ms. von Gencsy was extremely interested in politics, loved Trudeau, and was a committed Liberal voter. While she had tremendous respect for French-Canadians’ pride in their heritage, she was strongly against separation. She was well read and very knowledgeable about the performing arts. Von Gencsy also kept every program from every dance concert she ever attended.

Always eager to learn, she took various survey courses at Concordia University. When someone gave her a used computer when she was 80, she took to it immediately. She particularly delighted in looking up dance performances on YouTube. She also adored animals, especially big dogs, and called Ms. Normandin’s golden retriever, Léon, her boyfriend.

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