Dame Ninette De Valois
Die junge Ninette de Valois
Die junge Ninette de Valois
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DAME NINETTE DE VALOIS, (birth name Edris Stannus) was born June 6, 1898, Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland. She was the principal driving force in British ballet for more than 70 years, and the founder of the company that became the Royal Ballet. She also established the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School. She is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of ballet and as the ‘godmother’ of English ballet.

De Valois started attending ballet lessons in 1908 at the age of 10. At the age of 13, she began her professional training at the Lila Field Academy for Children. It was at this time that she legally changed her name to Ninette de Valois and made her professional debut as a principal dancer in pantomime at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. In 1919, at the age of 21, she was appointed principal dancer of the Beecham Opera, which was then the resident opera company at the Royal Opera House. She continued to study ballet with notable teachers, including Edouard Espinosa, Enrico Cecchetti and Nicholas Legat.

After study with Enrico Cecchetti and varied experience as a dancer in pantomime, revues, and opera, de Valois joined Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1923 as a soloist. At age 26, however, she quit performing after learning she was suffering from an undiagnosed case of childhood polio. In 1926 she founded her own school, the Academy of Choreographic Art, in London. The success of her ballet Job for the Camargo Society in 1931, followed by her association with Lilian Baylis, director of the Old Vic Theatre, led to the founding in 1931 of the Vic-Wells Ballet Company and the Sadler’s Wells School.

De Valois traced the history of the company, from its founding until it became the Royal Ballet in 1956.In 1963 she retired as director of the Royal Ballet, although she remained head of the school until 1972. She taught all the major figures in dance well into her dotage. She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1951 and was named Companion of Honour in 1980. Madam as she was most often known, died March 8, 2001 aged 102.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/castaway/a3aadcbf