Cover photo for Lola Ryan's Obituary
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1946 Lola 2023

Lola Ryan

October 23, 1946 — November 14, 2023

Lola McPherson Ryan was a dancer, teacher, and writer whose life and art were inextricably linked. Her brave, imaginative spirit and wry humour live on in the many hearts, minds, and bodies that she so profoundly inspired.

Born October 23, 1946, in London, England, Lola grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario. She lived in Vancouver from 1974 to 1992, moving to Ottawa in 1993, where she passed away peacefully on November 14, 2023. 

Lola’s life and work spanned many fields of inquiry and expression. She began a career in dance in her twenties, founding and co-founding several dance and theatre companies and touring nationally. She was a significant figure in Canada’s contemporary dance community and a co-founder of EDAM (Experimental Dance and Music), with whom she helped develop a style of movement called Contact Improvisation. As a critic, she wrote and broadcast reviews of dance and theatre across Canada and in the U.S. 

Over decades of teaching, Lola touched the lives of thousands of artists, children, adults, and seniors. She taught internationally, bringing Contact Improvisation to both France and Greece. She sought to reach between generations, encouraging links between youthful play and the world of dance. Lola taught at the University of Ottawa and served as chair of Dance Ontario. Her alma mater was Western University, from which she held both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees as well as a Diploma in Education. 

After living most of her life as a man, Lola transitioned in her sixties, becoming a proud member of Ottawa’s transgender community. Much of her later work was created in recognition of this community and in reflection upon her experiences within it. She directed her dance improvisation group, The Squad, for many years in Ottawa. Lola remained devoted to performance and teaching even while undergoing cancer treatments during the past two years. In January 2023, she performed a new solo piece titled In and Out of The Shadows, and in June, she co-created a group piece titled Skin Songs, presented in Strathcona Park. 

Lola was at her happiest in nature. She loved Gatineau Park and the McKay Pond and was an avid swimmer and cyclist. A lifelong athlete, she rowed for Canada’s national team, competing in the World Rowing Championships in 1970 and the Pan-American Games in Colombia in 1971.

Music was a constant companion for Lola. In her youth, she attended many concerts and festivals, including Woodstock in 1969, and her home was always full of soothing sounds. She took pride in decorating her home with art and craft from around the world – keepsakes of a life lived in curiosity and exploration.

Lola was predeceased by her parents, John Ryan and Doris Lena Ryan. She leaves her sister Susan McPherson Ryan, her children Antoine and Théa Ryan, their mother Monique Léger, as well as family in England and many friends around the world. 

Lola’s family and friends thank the oncology department at the Ottawa General Hospital and the doctors, nurses and PSWs on Five South at Saint-Vincent Hospice – they guided Lola through her final days with care, grace, respect, and love.

Donations in Lola’s memory can be made to an arts organization such as MASC https://www.masconline.ca/get-involved/donate/, Dance Ontario https://danceontario.ca/do/donate/, Ottawa Dance Directive https://odd-cdc.org/support/donors/ or any other of your choice. A celebration of Lola’s life will be held next spring.

My role is a catalyst for the growth of whoever I work with, and I am complete and content in that position.

                                                                                                            ***

 More about Lola compiled by her sister, Susan:

Max Wyman wrote: “It is truly saddening, both for myself and my wife Susan Mertens, also a former dance critic in Vancouver. Everyone is unique, of course, but the loss of such a lively, gentle and engaged creative mind is always a tragedy; and for the field of dance and the performing arts in Canada, particularly so. Lola’s enduring belief in the expressive powers of the human body, and in the integral value of the arts to a healthy society, offered exemplary evidence of the lasting value of personal commitment to the grassroots improvement of the way we live together. Susan and I send deep condolences on your loss but hope that you find solace in the memories of a life of grace and generosity that touched many.”

Playwright, director, and actor Morris Panych, who created The Overcoat, a play with no words based on a short story by Gogol, wrote: “First of all my condolences on [Lola’s] passing - I was indeed a great admirer of [her] work and it certainly influenced us in our work, as did all the wonderful dance pieces that EDAM did; they were very much a cornerstone of theatre in Vancouver at that time and a touchstone for me. What always impressed me about [Lola] was [her] dedication to movement and dance in such a deeply personal way - and [her] interest with other people's work as well as [her] own. [She] was a genuine collaborator and a consummate artist.”

A Legacy Project was completed in Ottawa this year to document the imaginative techniques and movement exercises that Lola used to dream up for each of her classes. In addition to teaching dance, Lola taught movement to professional theatre students at Studio 58 in Vancouver and at the University of Ottawa. In 2016 Lola choreographed Orpheus Musical Theatre Society’s Spring Awakening: The Musical, based on the play by Frank Wedekind, for which she was nominated for a Capital Critics’ Circle Best Director award.

One month ago, Ioannis Lyras wrote to Lola herself from Greece: “I recently saw a performance by Lila Zafeiropoulou ... It was a choreography of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence. I noticed your influence from the Antigone duos you created with Sxedia back then [20 years ago]” And later to the family: “A luminous and generous spirit and a joyous and brave soul, it is a privilege and a pleasure to have known and spent time with her creatively. May she rest in peace and sleep with angels and may the Lord console her loved ones.”

Thank you so much to the many friends and relations who have sent such beautiful and heartfelt tributes to Lola over the last few weeks. Nothing can take her place, but it has been a solace and an inspiration to see her light reflected back with such radiance.

Shine on, Lola, shine on.

In memory of Lola Ryan, please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:

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