Ninette de Valois (Dancer/Choreographer)
She danced professionally with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, later establishing The Royal Ballet, one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century and one of the world's leading ballet companies.
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 was born Edris Stannus in 1898, near the town of Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland. She was the second daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Stannus (DSO), a British army officer, and Lillith Graydon-Smith, a distinguished glassmaker. She moved to England in 1905, where she lived with her grandmother in Kent.
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.
In 1923, de Valois joined the Ballets Russes, a renowned ballet company founded by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. She remained with the company for three years, being promoted to the rank of Soloist, and creating roles in some of the company's most famous ballets, including Les biches and Le Train Bleu.
During this time, she was also mentor to Alicia Markova who was only a child at the time, but would eventually be recognised as a Prima Ballerina Assoluta and one of the most famous English dancers of all time. Later in her life, de Valois claimed that everything she knew about how to run a ballet company, she learned from working with Diaghilev.
After leaving the Ballets Russes, in 1927, de Valois established the Academy of Choreographic Art, a dance school for girls. Her ultimate goal was to form a repertory ballet company, with dancers drawn from the school and trained in a uniquely British style of ballet.
Students of the school were given professional stage experience performing in opera and plays staged at the Old Vic Theatre, with de Valois choreographing several short ballets for the theatre. Lilian Baylis was the owner of the Old Vic at that time, and in 1928 she also acquired and refurbished the Sadler's Wells Theatre, with the intention of creating a sister theatre to the Old Vic. She employed de Valois to stage full scale dance productions at both theatres and when the Sadler's Wells theatre re-opened in 1931, de Valois moved her school into studios there, under the new name, the Sadler's Wells Ballet School.
A ballet company was also formed, known as the Vic-Wells Ballet. The Vic-Wells ballet company and school would be the predecessors of today's Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School.
Photograph: Jane Bown, Guardian UK. Read more about De Valois at the Wikipedia link below.
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