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The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"A remarkable life"
 real 56k

Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 13:45 GMT
Madam takes her final bow
Dame Ninette de Valois
Vision and determination: Dame Ninette de Valois
To Dame Ninette de Valois, the Royal Ballet owes its place in the dance world's pecking order, and Covent Garden its role in the cultural merry-go-round.

Her tenacity in pursuit of an original vision, undertaken often in the face of chronic ill health, enabled her to accomplish what many at the time considered impossible.

She founded the Royal Ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School.

Dancing with the Ballet Russe
Dancing with the Ballet Russe
To her qualities as an administrator and teacher of genius, she added a kindliness and a concern for the personal well-being of her dancers which ensured her the utmost respect of the Company.

She was born Edris Stannus of Anglo-Irish parents in County Wicklow in 1898, adopting her professional name from an ancestor who had married into a French family.

But to most people in the world of ballet she was known simply as Madam.

Ninette de Valois was a leading dancer in London before joining Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in 1923. The two years she spent with the company formed her tastes, taught her many lessons and set firm her resolve to form a British company.

Ninette de Valois in the 1950s
The founder of the Royal Ballet
She gave up dancing herself while still young after discovering she had been suffering for years from polio. Instead, she threw her energy into her own dance academy.

Starting with just six dancers, it was to find a home at the Old Vic and Covent Garden.

Her association with the Old Vic resulted in her winning the whole-hearted support of its director, Lillian Baylis, for the idea of creating a national ballet within that organisation, and when the Sadlers Wells Theatre in north London was rebuilt, accommodation for a ballet school was included.

Star pupil: Margot Fonteyn
Star pupil: Margot Fonteyn
Ninette de Valois choreographed more than 100 works, including one acknowledged masterpiece called Job which has been described as the first completely English ballet.

Under her firm direction, British dancers gained international renown. After the war, Ninette de Valois was appointed a Dame of the British Empire and five years later, her company was granted a royal charter.

Dame Ninette teaching
Known to her students as 'madam'
One of her last, and most controversial decisions, before she retired from the directorship of the Royal Ballet in 1963, was to invite the Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, to appear with the company.

She could be autocratic, and she was helped by many collaborators such as Constance Lambert, Frederick Ashton and Dame Margot Fonteyn.

But few would dispute that it was the vision, determination and creative genius of Ninette de Valois that established the tradition of ballet in Britain.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Ballet world pays tribute to Madam
08 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Royal Ballet founder dies
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