James Canfield was born in Corning, New York and received his early dance training at the acclaimed Washington School of Ballet under the direction of Mary Day.
After joining the Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C., he joined the Joffrey II Dancers in New York City. Following one season with the Joffrey II Dancers, he was invited to join the Joffrey Ballet under the direction of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino.
During his career, Mr. Canfield danced an extensive repertoire of works by noted choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton, Anthony Tudor, George Balanchine, Gerald Arpino, Robert Joffrey, William Forsythe, John Cranko, Marius Petipa, Jirí Kylián, José Limón, Agnes de Mille, Choo San Goh and Val Caniparoli among others. In addition, Mr. Canfield was featured in two Dance in America PBS Series’ as well as An Evening with Diana Ross.
Mr. Canfield left the Joffrey Ballet and was appointed Oregon Ballet Theatre’s (OBT) Founding Artistic Director and served in that role from 1989 – 2003. Mr. Canfield choreographed over 30 ballets for the year-round company and established the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre to provide the best classical training to dancers throughout the Northwest. His students have gone on to dance with New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Dusseldorf Opera Ballet, Ballet West, Colorado Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and many others.
In 1993, Mr. Canfield raised the capital for, mounted and choreographed an original $1.2 million dollar production of The Nutcracker (sets and costumes by Campbell Baird). In August 1999, Oregon Ballet Theatre made its New York City debut when it performed to sold-out houses at the famed Joyce Theater.
Along with his many dance credits, Mr. Canfield has also played a lead role in establishing OBT as a major arts institution in Portland through artistic programming, education and outreach, sound financial footing, community visibility, and national recognition. In early 2000, along with HOLST Architects, Mr. Canfield and OBT secured funds and designed a city block and remodeled a former Wells Fargo Bank on the city’s inner eastside. Completed in September 2000, this $3.5 million acquisition of this 21,000 square foot building became the permanent home of OBT’s dance studios, school and offices.
In 2008, Mr. Canfield was asked to step in as Nevada Ballet Theatre’s (NBT) Interim Artistic Director and in 2009, following an international search, he was appointed the company’s third Artistic Director.
Several of Mr. Canfield’s works have joined NBT’s repertoire including Jungle, Coco, Up, Neon Glass Pas de Deux, Equinoxe, and Degas Impressions. Cyclical Night, his first original work for the company, premiered in 2010 to rave reviews. That same year, Mr. Canfield established several new initiatives for the company including NBT Unveiled, 4 x 8, and The Studio Series, which offered subscribers new perspective and insight into the world of dance. In spring 2011, Mr. Canfield collaborated with composer Adam Hurst on the premiere of his new ballet, Still, performed by NBT as part of The Tried, The True and the New.
In 2010, he and fellow Joffrey Ballet alumni presented Four Companies One Stage, A Tribute to Robert Joffrey, featuring dancers from NBT, Ballet West, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and Hubbard Street performing together as part of one program. At the beginning of the company’s 2011-2012 40th anniversary season, NBT premiered Mr. Canfield’s Cinq Gnossiennes. A ballet for seven dancers, it was performed at Paris Las Vegas with live musical accompaniment by friend and Principal Pianist, Carol Rich.
On May 5, 2012, in celebration of the company’s 40th anniversary and debut at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, NBT collaborated with singer songwriter Matt Goss on a special performance featuring original choreography by Canfield, set to the music of Goss. In December 2012, Mr. Canfield choreographed and premiered an all-new production of The Nutcracker, complete with new sets, costumes and full orchestra. This highly-anticipated production was his first full-length ballet for the company as well as for Las Vegas audiences.
Mr. Canfield remains active with the NW Dance Project in Portland, Oregon where he choreographs and instructs dancers from around the country along with some of the dance world’s most recognized directors and choreographers.
Photo Credit: Blaine Truitt Covert
- Sketches of Connotation - 2019