Born in Riga in 1924, Ludmilla Chiriaeff took her first dance lessons with Alexandra Nicolaieva from the Bolshoi Ballet at the age of six. She made her debut with Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes, where she worked with well-known personalities such as Léonide Massine, David Lichine and Michel Fokine, who became her spiritual mentor, encouraging her to take up choreography and teaching.
The outbreak of World War II interrupted her career at the Berlin Opera Ballet. From there she fled to Switzerland where she founded her first company, Le Ballet des Arts de Genève. In January 1952, Ludmilla Chiriaeff settled in Montréal. Thanks to some 300 Radio-Canada programs, she subsequently founded Les Ballets Chiriaeff, which gave its first performance in 1955.
In 1958, encouraged by various public figures such as Mayor Jean Drapeau, she transformed Les Ballets Chiriaeff into a permanent company and created Québec's first professional ballet troupe - Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Shortly afterwards, she established a school, the Académie des Grands Ballets Canadiens, designing both the program and the teaching methods. During the 1966/67 season, at the request of the Québec Minister of Cultural Affairs, Madame Chiriaeff founded the École supérieure de danse des Grands Ballets Canadiens, which was a logical extension of the Académie. This school became the École supérieure de danse du Québec in 1980.
As early as 1963, Ludmilla Chiriaeff began working with gifted collaborators such as Fernand Nault, Anton Dolin and Brian Macdonald. Linda Stearns, Jeanne Renaud, Daniel Jackson, Colin McIntyre and Lawrence Rhodes, have all subsequently served as Les Grands Ballets Canadiens' artistic director.
In 1971, Madame Chiriaeff created Les Compagnons de la danse, a small touring troupe designed to present performance/lectures in the schools and cultural centres in order to promote public awareness of dance.
Four years later Ludmilla Chiriaeff established a "ballet major" program at the Sainte-Croix School Board's École Pierre-Laporte. Unique in Québec, this program combines the professional teaching of classical ballet with the academic training. In 1979, this program was extended to the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. Madame Chiriaeff also founded a ballet course for sixth-grade and secondary school pupils attending the Montréal Catholic School Board's École Laurier. These courses are given at the École supérieure de danse du Québec. These schools have helped to ensure the future of dance in Québec by providing training free of charge, for all young Québecers who meet the entrance requirements. In 1981, the creation of the Maison de la danse - a cornerstone of the integrative approach to training, creation and production - was the culmination of a 25-year dream.
Since 1957, Ludmilla Chiriaeff has received many prestigious honours and awards. In 1980, she received the Prix Denise-Pelletier for the performing arts, awarded by the Québec government. She has also been a Companion of the Order of Canada since 1984 and a grand officier of the Ordre national du Québec since 1985. In addition, madame Chiriaeff holds three honorary doctorates, from McGill University (1982), Université de Montréal (1982) and Université du Québec (1988). In 1992, she was awarded the Nijinski Medal honouring her significant contribution to the world of dance and, in November 1993, the Governor General's Performing Arts Award.