Dame Ninette de Valois was the founder of The Royal Ballet
and the Sadler's Wells
Theatre Ballet, a choreographer
, a teacher of dance
, an impresario
, and an inspiration to generations of dancer
s and ballet
-lovers, who called her simply Madam
. She died on 8 March 2001 at the age of 102.
She was born Edris Stannus in the village of Baltiboys, Co. Wicklow, on 6 June 1898. She came to England as a child and became a dancer. In 1923 she joined Diaghilev's company, the Ballet Russe, but in 1926 gave up her dancing career, suffering (mildly) from polio, and began to teach. Working with the director Lilian Baylis, she raised the status of ballet in England. The full-length evening of dance at the Old Vic on 5 May 1931 marks the beginning of classical ballet as a serious art in England.
She choreographed over a hundred works, including Job: A Masque for Dancing (music of Vaughan Williams) in 1931, The Rake's Progress (Stravinsky) in 1935, and Checkmate in 1937.
De Valois was married to Dr Arthur Connell from 1935; he died in 1986. She became a CBE in 1947, DBE in 1951, CH in 1982, and OM in 1992. She retired in 1963, but continued to be associated with British ballet and the companies and school she founded, and taught and inspired younger dancers until the end of her life. The British tradition she founded is at the heart of ballet in many other countries.
Her books included Invitation to the Ballet (1937), Come Dance with Me (1957), Step by Step (1977), all on dance; as well as poetry (The Cycle and Other Poems).