Toile-mémoire de la danse au Québec [1895-2000]

“The Toile-mémoire is reminiscent of both a painter’s canvas and a spider’s web: a system of lines generating a support framework. The term “memory” is here understood more as an active exercise than a fixed entity or finality. The neologism Toile-mémoire (“memory canvas”) describes this new form, whose organic lines suggest movement, shifting territory.”

—Catherine Lavoie-Marcus, originator of the Toile-mémoire 


Click on the image to see the La toile-mémoire de la danse au Québec [1895-2000]


How did the Toile-mémoire come into being?

The Toile-mémoire is inextricably linked to the context in which it was created: when the dance community was rallying round the Grands Chantiers de la danse. Launched in 2007, this vast project of consultation and cooperation led to the second États généraux de la danse professionnelle du Québec in 2009, and the publication of the Master Plan for Professional Dance in Quebec 2011-2021. In this context, it became imperative to prepare the ground for a history of 20th-century professional dance in Quebec, which would both reinforce the dance community’s identity and spark reflections upon its lineage. With this in mind, RQD launched this project, an historical reconstruction based on oral transmissions and physical contacts.


How did its form arise?

To create a work based on memory, to historicize dance, is to attempt to fuse the worlds of movement and words. It was first necessary to identify the major players who had a role in transmitting dance-related knowledge and skills, including those catalogued by dance historian Iro Valaskakis-Tembeck. Based on 315 entities, the project documented their interrelationships over the decades, bringing them together in a kind of genealogical tree. By connecting these lines on the same diagram, new lines appeared, generating points of intersection, networks and areas of concentration—or, conversely, areas of separation or rupture. The Toile-mémoire is the result of painstaking work in graphic composition and a series of choices: visual, temporal, geographic and stylistic. The resulting form resembles a constellation, constantly animated by a profusion of elements, like a nomadic territory characterized by transformations and exchanges.


What does it represent?

The Toile-mémoire brings together a variety of individuals and companies, as well as training and presentation sites, which are related through historical filiations of transmission, training or artistic collaboration. It is an anthology of stories that shed light on each other. At the forefront, we find the dance figures that allow us to discern, in the background, the aesthetic and stylistic dimensions of the affiliations. Through its focal points, for example, the Toile-mémoire allows us to identify the vectors leading to the major aesthetic families.



How should it be used?

Despite its physical frame and boundaries, the Toile-mémoire has neither a starting point nor end point: it offers, on the contrary, several historical entry points and several layers of interpretation. Like a large weave with multiple strands, and captions indicating the colours, the Toile-mémoire sets in motion a dialogue between past and present, offering numerous histories to discover.

We can see, for example, the migratory movements and groups that resulted in Quebec or, more strikingly, the lack of ties and exchanges between Montreal’s Francophone and Anglophone dance communities, the former developing east of the Main, the other to the west. Clearly visible on the Toile-mémoire, these “two solitudes” are worth examining from socio-historical and disciplinary points of view.


What does it not show?

The Toile-mémoire took on a major challenge: to graphically identify and connect the prominent figures of Quebec dance. The resulting image, however, does not reveal everything. Several elements extend beyond the “frame” of the canvas and cannot be represented. For example, many artists received their training abroad, but the Toile-mémoire does not show these influences or reveal the extent of the affiliations between dance in Canada, Europe, America, Africa, India, Asia, etc. These contacts, however, influenced the development of this art of movement, which is closely linked to cultural codes and, more broadly, to the world’s diverse cultures and civilizations. Similarly, the contributions of other artistic disciplines, including theatre, circus, mime, visual arts and literature, are not represented, nor are those of composers, stage designers, rehearsal masters, lighting and costume designers, and so on. In mapping the vectors of development of Quebec dance in the 20th century, the figure of the choreographer predominated, since he or she is the ultimate creator of the works that are now firmly embedded in the popular or cultural imagination.

Presented for the first time to the dance community in April 2009, the Toile-mémoire has since sparked debate and questions: on the spheres of influence that were neglected, on the figures overlooked, on disputed affiliations. Nevertheless, the Toile-mémoire has succeeded in marking out a hitherto unexamined field of research and documentation, proposing in the process numerous paths to explore and narratives to develop.


Who and what inspired it?

Writing history—or drawing it in this case—inevitably involves a mix of objectivity and subjectivity. The Toile-mémoire is not the result of a scientific approach—and can hardly be considered exhaustive! It stems rather from an intuitive approach employing induction and deduction in the processing of data drawn from the written material available on the history of Quebec dance and other primary sources, often partial, fragmentary or scattered throughout the province. Be that as it may, this project of data collection and organization has allowed us to validate facts and dates, and in certain cases to fill gaps. As it stands now, the Toile-mémoire, despite its imprecisions, black holes or even errors, reflects the possibilities and limitations of historical documentation.


What is its status nine years later?

“Writing has appropriated memory to the point of claiming a monopoly. History was until recently a written history, produced essentially from other writings, archives.”

“L’écriture n’est-elle pas devenue le temps de la mémoire?” 
—Laurier Turgeon, 2010

In the fall of 2013, through a subsidy from Heritage Canada and the assistance of an intern trained in museology, RQD began the second phase of research aimed a producing a file on each of the 315 elements in the Toile-mémoire (training paths, professional productions, artistic legacy, iconographic materials, etc.). In 2014, RQD obtained another subsidy, this time from the City of Montreal, for editing and iconographic research. At the invitation of the Musées de la civilisation, the second edition of the Toile-mémoire was presented at the exhibition Rebel Bodies, which attracted over 100,000 people from March 10, 2015 to February 14, 2016. From April to September, 2016, the third edition of the Toile-mémoire is on display at the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Cultural Centre, at the first exhibition devoted to Iro Valaskakis-Tembeck, an artist and pioneer in the history of Quebec dance. RQD is currently completing the roughly 100 remaining files, as well as the preliminary work on an interactive digital platform. The latter will allow public access to the Toile-mémoire, along with the possibility of making additions to it. RQD will thus help to historicize the discipline and raise the profile of an invaluable artistic heritage that up to now has been so difficult to share. It is hoped that the project will also generate interest in history, and even in the vocations of researcher and historian.


Production Team

First phase, 2008-2009

Conception and implementation: Catherine Lavoie-Marcus with the support of Michèle Febvre and Philip Szporer
Validation committee: Vincent Warren, Marie Beaulieu, Amy Bowring, Linda Rabin, Jeanne Renaud, Linde Howe-Beck, Geneviève Salbaing, Pierre Chartrand, Myriam Belzile, Èlaine Delorimier and Pierre Lapointe
Documentation support: Marie-Josée Lecours and Annie Rodrigue from the Bibliothèque de la danse Vincent-Warren

Graphic design: Sébastien Théraulaz (Subcommunication)

Graphic coordination: Judith Lessard-Bérubé, RQD

Second phase, 2013-

Project manager: Lorraine Hébert, RQD (from 2013 to 2016)
Research and coordination: Gabrielle Larocque, RQD
Validation committee: Michèle Febvre, Marie Beaulieu, Philip Szporer, Vincent Warren
Editorial committee: Geneviève Dussault, Frédérique Doyon, Michèle Febvre
Documentation and iconographic support: Marie-Josée Lecours and Marie-Gabrielle Ménard
Principal partner: Bibliothèque de la danse Vincent-Warren

This second phase was made possible through the support of Heritage Canada (Young Canada Works program) and the Agreement on the Cultural Development of Montreal between the City of Montreal and Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications (Support for Montreal Heritage program).


Articles related to the history of dance:

Laurie Turgeon, “Introduction, Du matériel à l’immatériel. Nouveaux défis, nouveaux enjeux” (2010)

Marie-Josée Lecours, “Le patrimoine de la danse au Québec : état de la situation” (2009) 

Marina Nordera,  “Dépasser les frontières disciplinaires” (2014)

Vannina Olivesi, “ La construction des histoires de la danse” (2011) [excerpt]

Isabelle Launay, “À l’écoute du souvenir” (2008) [excerpt]

Katharina Van Dyk, “L’exception culturelle chorégraphique” (2008) [excerpt]

Visit the website’s Resources section for a selective bibliography.

Reference Organizations

Bibliothèque de la danse Vincent-Warren 

Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec 

Dance Collection Danse 

Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault

Tangente, centre de documentation 

Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, Loi sur le patrimoine culturel

UNESCOConvention pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine culturel immatériel

UQAM, Service des archives et Collection spéciale de la Bibliothèque des Arts

Réseau de diffusion des archives du Québec



The translation of this page has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.