Rachel Browne was the revered founder of Canada's oldest contemporary dance company and the beloved matriarch of the Winnipeg dance scene. She was born in Philadelphia as Ray Minkoff in 1934 and studied ballet from the age of six. After moving to New York, she was mentored by Benjamin Harkarvy (who would later direct the Pillow’s Ballet Program throughout the 1980s). It was Harkarvy who first took Browne to Winnipeg after he was hired to direct the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Although Browne left the company after several years to raise a family, she found that she couldn’t live without dance, and in 1964 she formed Contemporary Dancers of Winnipeg as Canada’s first professional modern troupe. She brought the company to Jacob’s Pillow in 1977, performing her own work as well as dances by Anna Blewchamp and Norbert Vesak. (Vesak, a Pillow scholarship student in the 1960s, was represented by Gift to be Simple
, a Shaker-inspired work that was researched at Hancock Shaker Village.) After a bitter conflict with her company’s Board in 1982, Browne was fired and she subsequently forged a new career as a freelance choreographer and teacher. Her relationship with the company she founded healed over time, and their performance venue was renamed the Rachel Browne Theatre in 2008. She died in June 2012 at the age of 77.