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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 15:43 GMT
Royal Ballet founder dies
Ninette de Valois
Dame Ninette de Valois on her 100th birthday in 1998
Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of The Royal Ballet has died at her home in Barnes, London, aged 102.

Born Edris Stannus in the Irish village of Baltiboys, she was a figure who dominated British dance in the 20th Century.

She will be remembered as a gifted choreographer but more so as the woman who did so much to increase the prestige of ballet in England.

Dame Ninette de Valois
Pictured with dancers David Bellan and Merle Park
Sir Anthony Dowell director of The Royal Ballet said: "With the death of Dame Ninette de Valois, we acknowledge the passing of one of the 20th Century's greatest and most influential figures in the world of the arts."

Arts Minister Alan Howarth said: "Her influence on the development of ballet in this country cannot be overstated, and her life's work has provided a legacy that will continue to flourish and inspire dancers and audiences alike for decades to come."

First steps

Her family moved to England when she was seven and by the age of 13 she was performing in Lila Field's Wonder Children in commercial theatre.

"If they didn't like you they threw things," she once said.

She moved on to ballet, which was then little more than a novelty turn in variety theatres.

Dame Ninette became a leading dancer in London before joining Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in 1923.


For me personally she became a central part of my life when I joined The Royal Ballet School aged eleven and has remained so ever since

Sir Anthony Dowell

In 1926 she gave up dancing.

"It was no tragedy," she later said, "I wasn't that great."

She then opened her own ballet school in London and worked to instil her great understanding of classic tradition and love of classic repertory in her students.

She persuaded impresario and director Lilian Baylis to allow her dance pupils to appear in theatrical and operatic productions.

The result was a full evening of ballet at the Old Vic on 5 May 1931, something that is considered the beginning of professional classical ballet in England.

In 1935, she married Arthur Connell, an Irish surgeon who died in 1986 but they had no children.

Masterpieces

As the founder of The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet (initially the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet) and the Royal Ballet School, Dame Ninette dominated the British dance scene.

The Queen, Darcey Bussell and Dame Ninette de Valois
Meeting the Queen and ballerina Darcey Bussell in 1996
She choreographed many important works, of which the acknowledged masterpieces were Job (1931), The Rake's Progress (1935) and Checkmate (1937).

Her career in dance included founding the first Turkish national ballet company in 1947, something that required vision as well as determination.

"Everybody in England likened my struggle to the tales of 1001 nights," de Valois wrote in her 1957 memoir Come Dance With Me.

"The ones who took this struggle seriously the most was only me and the Turks."

She retired in 1963 and was named life governor of the Royal Ballet at that time, continuing to be involved in the work of the Ballet School until 1971.

She received many official honours, including being made a dame in 1951.

But for the British ballet world she was quite simply a legend in the flesh.

She was strict but nurtured some of the greatest talents of the age including Moira Shearer, Alicia Markova and Margot Fonteyn

"For me personally she became a central part of my life when I joined The Royal Ballet School aged eleven and has remained so ever since," said Sir Anthony.

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Chief Executive Sadler's Wells, Ian Albery
"An absolute rock solid determination to do things, and to do things her way"
Director Birmingham Royal Ballet, David Bintley
"She was very keen that what we did reflected our nation"
See also:

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08 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Arts world pays tribute to Madam
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