Ilze Berzins

Too big for the living room this painting has been stored in the basement for years. I remember vividly how much I enjoyed painting this--just a large piece of masonite propped up on a table in a tiny kitchen which I tackled with gusto (the painting not the kitchen--which was a disaster and almost prompted a divorce). Still, I loved every minute of the process, so unlike the struggles other paintings involved. It always amused me when people couldn't initially see the sleeping mermaid. I painted her from a sketch I had made in Paris many years ago.

My art school for children and young people in Oakville Ontario. Here I'm posing beside my signage with my dog called 'Beagle'. The year is 1994.

At the barre in the studio of Les Ballets Jazz in Montreal


My lifelong passion for ballet started over sixty years ago in a refugee camp in Esslingen, Germany. One of the very few memories I have of that period is my father picked marigolds for my crown of flowers which I wore when my dance group performed in front of our admiring parents.   

But then, except for my early childhood dance classes, I was never encouraged to continue with ballet. For newly arrived immigrants to Montreal classes were expensive and babysitting was a far better occupation as far as my parents were concerned.

In fact, I was rather discouraged. In elementary school I was part of a handful of girls the ballet teacher referred to as KLUNKS. A very cruel, gay, middle-aged chap by the name of Mr McDougall was in charge. In our free after-school ballet classes we KLUNKS suffered in shame skulking in the back rows of the gym room while the petite, blond-haired, blue-eyed ballerinas flitted around gracefully to the Walz of the Roses. Yet, undeterred, I continued to search out ballet classes where ever they were held. One very cold winter day I remember trudging through the snow on my way to class. There was a bus strike that day and my journey was long. I slipped and fell on the ice and asked myself why. Why this intense resolve to dance. There was never an answer to that question. That’s just the way it was.    

When I grew older, and even taller, I was fitted in with the boys during barre work. Madame Chiriaeff, the founder of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, took an initial interest in me but dropped me when she realized I was seventeen. Had I been fourteen or fifteen she might have made something out of me, she thought. Too tall. Too old. Ah well…

Still I ran to classes in between lectures at McGill. And managed to pay for them.

Years later, as an instructor at Concordia University I wore my leotards under my regular clothes to save time. My class ended at five. Ballet started at five. No late-comers. I remember abandoning my students at ten to five to dash madly up to St Catherine Street and Les Ballets Jazz. Up the slow-moving elevator, race to the dressing room, peel off my outer wear, and rush to the barre. There I developed a tremendous crush on our diminutive Ukrainian ballet master, Mr Litvinov even though he mocked my dropped elbows when performing the ‘porte de bras’.

To my distress my bolt from art class at Concordia was reported to the Head of the Department by a few disgruntled students. What a risk I was taking for my passion!      

And then Latvia. I dreamed of finding a ancient ballerina from the Kirov or the Bolshoi giving classes in a spare room of her home just like in the delightful movie Turning Point. But I never did. “Ballet is for children,” I was told. “Not for you.”

For a time I did take over the gym in the Arts Academy to practice my ‘grand jetés’ but was soon ousted by the basketball team.  

Now years later I’m still at it. Here in Ottawa my husband installed a ballet barre in the dining room. Sadly I’m struggling. But not giving up. How could I abandon my lifelong love? I can’t and I never will.

One of my favourite paintings now hangs in a law office in Halifax.

A multi-media painting on paper which I called SPRING ANGEL, exhibited at Studio 21 in Halifax and purchased.

Whenever there is turmoil in my life, I go back to my Art Gallery.

Sifting through accumulated Stuff, I come across letters and diaries and photos of my many years of living.

I should be packing, but instead I find myself reading and remembering. Heartwrenching are the collection of letters my mother left in my care — amongst them letters my Uncle Karlis wrote from Latvia to my grandmother. Ever since I could remember, my grandmother grieved for her youngest son, Karlis, left behind in Latvia and injured in the Soviet occupation. 

There are also letters I wrote to my grandmother from Paris which she safeguarded and which show me what an earnest and caring young woman I once was.

And tons of letters I wrote to my parents — from Paris, from London, from Kyoto and from Latvia. My mother enjoyed sharing my adventures with her. I wrote separetely to my father, serious letters of a philosophical nature.

And there are photos of some of my paintings which I’ve added to my Art Gallery.

myself in 1995

The allee of stately maples leading to the Beki House, then and now.

My mother in 1942. Myself in 1995.

Much has changed. The road leading up to Beki House is now paved. It has become a public thoroufare.

Cars race up and down the once quiet country road where horses clip clopped peacefully and only rarely did a motorized vehicle make its way up to the homestead.