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Françoise Sullivan is a pioneer of modern dance in Montréal. In addition to her accomplishments as a dancer and choreographer, she is an internationally respected visual artist whose career has spanned over six decades.
As a young woman, Sullivan studied visual art at Montréal's École des Beaux-Arts and ballet with Gérald Crevier. She later performed with Crevier's Les Ballets-Québec. In 1941, she met the painter Paul-Émile Borduas, who was the leader of the Automatistes, a group of Montréal artists who rebelled against aesthetic and social conformity. In 1948, the Automatistes published a manifesto, the Refus Global. Sullivan was one of the manifesto's signatories. She was also the only woman to contribute an essay, “La Danse et l'espoir” (“Dance and Hope”), which is one of the first political treatises on dance to be written in Canada.
In 1945, Sullivan moved to New York to study modern dance. Although she sampled the classes of many teachers, she spent most of her time in the studios of Franziska Boas, the daughter of the noted anthropologist Franz Boas. In 1947, Sullivan returned to Montréal. The following year, she staged a concert of modern dance choreography with Jeanne Renaud, which featured Sullivan's Dédale and Dualité. These dances are now considered to be Canadian classics.
During the 1950s, Sullivan's time was devoted to raising her four sons from her marriage to the painter Paterson Ewen. She also choreographed and performed for television. In the 1960s and 1970s, she took an extended hiatus from dance to concentrate on sculpture and conceptual art. She returned to dance in the late 1970s when a new generation of Montréal dancers invited her to remount and create new works for them.
Throughout her long career, Sullivan has received several prestigious awards. In 2005, she received a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.
Lindgren, Allana. From Automatism to Modern Dance: Françoise Sullivan with Franziska Boas in New York. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse Press/es, 2003.
Sullivan, Françoise. “Dance and Hope.” Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories. Eds. Selma Landen Odom and Mary Jane Warner. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse Press/es, 2004: 11-17.
---. “La Danse et l'espoir.” Refus Global. Paul-Émile Borduas, et al. Saint Hilaire: Mirthra-Mythe, 1948.