Telephone: 604 444-4889
Outside Vancouver: 1 888 445-4176
Fax: 604 444-4119
I, Padam (né J. Morley Wiseman), am a Canadian who was born and raised on a farm in Northern Saskatchewan in the middle of the Great Depression. Survival depended on being resourceful at all times, training that served me well in the ballet world where I was to spend much of my professional life.
In 1957, I became the first Canadian dancer to be awarded a grant from the Canada Council to continue studying at the Royal Ballet School in London, England. At that time it was the best launching pad for an aspiring young dancer, providing the example of some of the world’s greatest dancers, teachers and choreographers with regular performance experience at Covent Garden Opera House as part of our training, giving us a working experience with the industry, performing regularly beside some of the world’s great visiting guest artists in both the opera and the ballet worlds.
Every part of the theatre interested me. Set and Costume designing and after my dancing career I began creating costumes for several principal dancers for their guest appearances. It also stimulated me as a visual artist which first got attention in my child hood, having had the good fortune to be fostered by Helen Barr, my country school teacher, herself a graduate of the Ontario College of Art.
Even though I did have a grant and as student performers, we were paid a small fee for each rehearsal and performance that we did, I still found that I needed to find other income sources to fund my education – so in the process of fleshing out my income, I began modelling for the life drawing classes at five of London’s leading art schools. For a few months all the art school exhibitions had at least one or two full length nude renderings of me on their walls.
During this period, my agent got me a T.V. commercial that was designed to target the movie going public as well. In England they would show commercials prior to showing the main feature while the audience munched down Dairy Box Chocolates that were sold in every movie house lobby across the land. Surprise, surprise, the main ad on the play loop to appear on the big screen was me serenading a girl with some high energy stomping while I faked played a guitar, lip-synching the words of the theme song with the musical punchline “your girl and my girl are all Dairy Box Girls”.
This also played in every movie house in the land and I became known as “The Dairy Box Boy”. Some evenings I would try to calculate my royalty earnings as I counted the number of times I overheard my commercial on my neighbours’ T.V. through the thin walls that separated our rooms.
All this training in England prepared me to return home to Canada as a professional dancer contracted to the National Ballet in Toronto. For the next five years, we toured extensively the length and breadth of both Canada and the U.S.A. It was pioneering – Swan Lake in all its forms appeared everywhere from Opera Houses to Hockey Arenas. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens followed next with more touring especially in French Canada. Then back to England to join London Festival Ballet for the Christmas season and then onto extensive touring in Europe.
A free lance period followed and my agent got me a job in Rome dancing in the extravaganza, Festa Italiano to be exported to Canada and the U.S.A. There were 100 male dancers, famous horses from the movie industry with their stunt men riders, 12 female dancers and 4 opera singers to complete the ensemble. One day during rehearsal the choreographer, Gino Landi, announced that they needed a male dancer to ride a retired Lipizzaner stallion who would lead the grand parade, a cavalcade of Italian History about to unfold in six weeks time at Madison Square Gardens, New York.
“Is anyone interested to do this for an extra $25 per performance?” Every hand went up. After an audition out back on the horse track, part of the Mussolini Stadium where this huge cast rehearsed, the Dairy Box Boy got the job. When we opened at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Toronto press said that I looked more Roman than the Romans.
A dancer’s life on stage in peak performance ability is short so I sought out the roles that clearly suited me and then joined the company that needed me. I finished my stage career dancing the most difficult role of my life, the Blue Skater in the ballet Les Patineurs. I had been prepared for this role way back in my student days at the Royal Ballet School, as my teacher Harold Turner had been the original Blue Skater.
Blue Skater in Les Patineurs, arabesque en plié
Self-portrait by Padam, 1984, oil on board
Many difficult tricks had to be mastered, one in particular being the 12 butterflies done in a large circular pattern. It’s not in most dancers repertoire so I was fortunate to get some excellent coaching from old Mr. Wills, a revered gymnastics coach in New York in the days when I was riding my Lipizzaner stallion at Madison Square Gardens at night. I was finally prepared and went on to dance this role with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to critical acclaim across Canada and the U.S.A. The Miami Beach Herald said – “Diminutive Morley Wiseman, with his electrifying turns, brought down the house last night in a blizzard of applause.”
I eventually turned my attention to training other dancers, especially Dianne Bell, whom I married. With my eclectic approach to training on top of a solid base, I developed my own Wiseman Technique while serving as founding artistic director of Ballet Horizons, the first professional ballet Co in British Columbia. I further documented Wiseman Technique while serving as ballet master at the Staatstheater in Darmstadt Germany. A video was eventually published in Vancouver B.C. in 2002 by AM Productions, with the help of Véhicule and Video-poet Tom Konyves.
For the past 30 years I’ve been working in the visual arts returning to dance for inspiration which has resulted in many figurative drawings, paintings and sculptures. The St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music in Russia, has 4 of my bronze sculptures of famous dancers including 2 of Rudolf Nureyev in their permanent collection. The theatre arts are collaborative by nature, an approach I often took in my visual art work as well.
One such collaboration happened in the Benedictine monastery in Mission City B.C., when I served as both model and assistant sculptor to Fr. Dunstan Massey. The job at hand was to create his designs depicting 20 different saints in large high relief sculptures for the new abbey church. In 1983, I drew my inspiration from St. Benedict for my sculptures, Ora Labor I and Ora Labora II. He recommended to his monks that equal attention be given to developing their bodies and their minds alike, hence his motto ’Ora Labora’. I stressed this approach when I developed Wiseman Technique, my body/mind exercise technique which I taught internationally.
Seventeen years later, Benedictine Liqueur hosted an international competition on the internet for a design, monastic in theme, to be featured on a tin box containing one bottle of liqueur. This would be their Millennium Holiday Special to be marketed world wide. At New Years I received an email from France announcing my submission as the winner of the competition and that I would receive a cheque for $15,000, a plane ticket to Paris with all expenses paid for a design conference with a drive through Normandy to the palace in Fécamp, home of the Benedictine Liqueur industry housing an impressive permanent art collection as well. Many artists haunt this countryside with its many cafes as did the Impressionists in their day.
I wondered what the next collaboration might be. A dashing young poet perhaps who would be interested in my stories? That too happened. How we met is best described in a novella Garry Thomas Morse wrote titled Death in Vancouver. We often ran into one another in the lounge of the Sylvia Hotel where we exchanged ideas.
He encouraged my storytelling as I sketched his portrait. We had agreed to use a Coastal modification of the Ganymede myth as a springboard for a project that began with his poetry. Then I responded with a design for a stained glass triptych that included his poetry and my vision of the poet’s mind as Ganymede.
Garry has made this project and many of my stories about my life central to his novella Death in Vancouver. He has a gift for brilliant expression that perfectly captures the essence of his caricatures, like Padam’s assistant “Stephan”, his patron “Lorn” and all the “Irregulars” that regularly appear in the lounge of the “Istoria Hotel”. It is hilarious at times and hauntingly sad too, layered with parallels borrowed from the ages. I am grateful to Garry for his eagerness to find a story in local history and note the subtle shifts in a micro-community, even if he had to invent a new language to do so!
More examples of Padam’s artwork and stories from his life are available on his website.