Celebrated former RWB dancer slain in Ottawa

A former Royal Winnipeg Ballet principal dancer — once celebrated as one the Canada’s finest — was found slain in his Ottawa home on Good Friday.

Ottawa Police Service officers arrived at a two-storey house on Smyth Road in the eastern part of the city around 3 pm on April 15. They found Richard Rutherford, 87, dead in the home he shared with his longtime partner.


Richard Rutherford at a special tribute for Arnold Spohr at the Centennial Concert Hall in 2010.

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Richard Rutherford at a special tribute for Arnold Spohr at the Centennial Concert Hall in 2010.

Philippe Hebert, 69, has been charged with second-degree murder, Ottawa police said Saturday. He was remanded to custody after a court appearance that morning.

Hebert and Rutherford were a couple for more than 40 years and had been married for at least 10, longtime neighbor Charles Wendt told the Free Press Monday.

The RWB’s artistic director and CEO André Lewis was shocked to hear of the death of Rutherford, who was one of his first teachers at the Winnipeg company in 1975. Lewis didn’t have the chance to see Rutherford dance in person, but he saw video .

“He was a very gracious, very beautiful, very strong — manly at the same time — dancer,” Lewis told the FreePress.

“He was also a very gentle person when he worked with you. The way he delivered his material was always positive, trying to elevate you to the best you could be, rather than scream at you to get to the level he felt you should be at — a very considerate man… a true gentleman.”

Lewis said Rutherford had a lasting impact on ballet in Winnipeg.

“He was a well-known artist who was loved by the community… he was recognized, he was recognizable,” he said.

“He raised the artistic level of the organization. His dancing, his teaching and training just continue (to lift) the standards of the organization.”

<p>Richard Rutherford and Sonia Taverner perform in 1964.</p>
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<p>Richard Rutherford and Sonia Taverner perform in 1964.</p>
<p>Rutherford continued to champion the company after he moved to Ottawa — making sure to come to every performance when the dancers travelled.			</p>
<p>“He was such a great supporter of the RWB, to the very last time I saw him which was two years ago… we had just gone to Ottawa and he absolutely loved it, he loved the company — he thought we looked so strong,” Lewis said.			</p>
<p>Born in Georgia in 1935, Rutherford came north to Canada and joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 1957 after training at the School of American Ballet Theater in New York City.  In Winnipeg, he was promoted to principal dancer in 1959.			</p>
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<p>Richard Rutherford during his tenure as a RWB Principal dancer in 1968.</p>
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<p>Richard Rutherford during his tenure as a RWB Principal dancer in 1968.</p>
<p>Rutherford appeared in more than 50 ballets around the world.  His name of him, the <em>Free Press</em> reported, became synonymous with the company.			</p>
<p>“Ballet sources here say audiences world over have gasped with delight at his spellbinding technique,” the <em>Free Press</em> wrote.			</p>
<p>To mark his retirement, Winnipeg arts patrons gathered at the Centennial Concert Hall to honor Rutherford, who the <em>Free Press</em> called one of Canada’s most widely acclaimed dancers.  The RWB presented a performance with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the National Ballet of Canada.			</p>
<p>“In 1957, when Mr. Rutherford joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, audiences, even in the company’s hometown, were small,” the <em>Free Press</em> reported ahead of performance.			</p>
<p>“Now they are counted in the hundreds of thousands all over the world. This accomplishment is credited, in no small part, to the caliber of its leading dancers.”			</p>
<p>He worked as an associate director with the company until 1977, when he moved to Ottawa.			</p>
<p>From 1977 to 1995, he was the dance officer in the awards service with the Canada Council for the Arts.  After he retired in 1995, he served as the president of the board of directors of the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights in Ottawa.			</p>
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Rutherford returned to RWB twice since moving to Ontario — once to coach the professional division in its 1991 performance of the Bitter Weird and again to speak at the school’s 2009 graduation, according to the RWB archives.

Ottawa neighbor Wendt said news of the arrest and Rutherford’s death was a total shock.

“It’s just very tragic,” he said.

Rutherford’s health had been failing in recent years and Hebert had been dutifully caring for the former dancer 24 hours a day, Wendt said. Rutherford’s condition had worsened in recent weeks and using stairs had become difficult.

“Great neighbors — both of them. A loving couple, great people,” Wendt said. “(Hebert) was very concerned for (Rutherford’s) failing health.”


Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pineda

Erik Pineda

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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