seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Ninette de Valois, Dancer & Choreographer

ninette-de-valoisDame Ninette de Valois, Irish-born British ballet dancer, choreographer, and founder of the company that in October 1956 becomes the Royal Ballet, is born Edris Stannus at Baltyboys House in Blessington, County Wicklow on June 6, 1898. She is influential in establishing ballet in England.

In 1908, at the age of ten, de Valois starts attending ballet lessons. At the age of thirteen she begins her professional training at the Lila Field Academy for Children. It is at this time that she changes her name and makes her professional debut as a principal dancer in pantomime at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.

In 1919, at the age of 21, de Valois is appointed principal dancer of the Beecham Opera Company, which is then the resident opera company at the Royal Opera House. She continues to study ballet with notable teachers, including Edouard Espinosa, Enrico Cecchetti and Nicholas Legat.

In 1923, de Valois joins Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as a soloist. At age 26, however, she quits performing after learning she is suffering from an undiagnosed case of childhood polio. In 1926 she founds her own school, the Academy of Choreographic Art, in London. She also produces dances for Lennox Robinson at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and for Terence Gray at the Cambridge Festival Theatre.

The success of de Valois’s ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing for the Camargo Society in 1931, followed by her association with Lilian Baylis, director of the Old Vic Theatre, leads to the founding in 1931 of the Vic-Wells Ballet Company and the Sadler’s Wells School. She traces the history of the company, from its founding until it becomes the Royal Ballet in 1956, in Invitation to the Ballet (1937) and Come Dance with Me (1957).

Besides directing the company that she created, de Valois choreographs numerous ballets, including Checkmate (1937) and Don Quixote (1950). By drawing from English tradition for her choreographic material, as in The Rake’s Progress (1935), inspired by William Hogarth’s series of engravings, and The Prospect Before Us (1940), modeled on Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the same name, she creates a uniquely national ballet company. Her narrative ballets include prominent roles for male dancers, giving them artistic opportunities often neglected by other choreographers.

In 1963 de Valois retires as director of the Royal Ballet, although she remains head of the school until 1972. She is created a Dame of the British Empire in 1951 and is named Companion of Honour in 1980.

de Valois keeps her private life very distinct from her professional life, making only the briefest of references to her marriage to Dr. Arthur Blackall Connell, a physician and surgeon from Wandsworth, in her autobiographical writings. In April 1964 she is the subject of This Is Your Life, when she is surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the home of the dancer Frederick Ashton in London. She continues to make public appearances until her death in London on March 8, 2001 at the age of 102.

(Pictured: Ninette de Valois, circa early 1920s)

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Death of Joan Denise Moriarty, Ballet Dance & Choreographer

joan-denise-moriartyJoan Denise Moriarty, Irish ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher of ballet and traditional Irish dancer and musician, dies on January 24, 1992. She is a key figure in the development of both amateur and professional ballet in Ireland.

Little is known of Moriarty’s early life. Her year of birth is estimated between 1910 and 1913 but no documentation has been found. The place of her birth is also unknown, and even the country is uncertain. She grows up as the daughter of Michael Augustus Moriarty, an alumnus of Stonyhurst College and contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his wife, Marion (née McCarthy). The Moriartys are originally from Mallow, County Cork, where her grandfather John Moriarty was a successful solicitor.

Moriarty is brought up in England. She studies ballet until her early teens with Dame Marie Rambert. She is an accomplished Irish step-dancer and traditional musician, and becomes the champion Irish step-dancer of Britain on April 24, 1931. She also wins a swimming championship. She is a member of the Liverpool branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge.

In the autumn of 1933 Moriarty returns with her family to their native Mallow in County Cork. In 1934, she sets up her first school of dance there. From 1938 she also gives weekly classes in Cork in the Gregg Hall and Windsor School. During the 1930s she takes part in the Cork Feis, annual arts competitions with a focus on traditional dance and music, competing in Irish step-dancing, warpipes and operatic solo singing. She performs on the warpipes in various public concerts and gives at least two broadcasts. In 1938 she is invited by Seán Neeson, lecturer in Irish music at University College Cork, to perform at a summer school which the Music Department organises for primary school teachers.

Moriarty’s mother dies in February 1940. The following November she moves to Cork where she sets up the Moriarty School of Dancing. The early years during the war are very difficult financially. In the early 1940s she performs with her dancers in musicals and variety shows at the Cork Opera House.

In 1945 the composer Aloys Fleischmann invites Moriarty to perform in his Clare’s Dragoons for baritone, war pipes, choir and orchestra, which had been commissioned by the national broadcasting company, Radio Éireann, for the Thomas Davis centenary. Moriarty agrees, on condition that his Cork Symphony Orchestra would play for her Ballet Company’s annual performances, which marks the beginning of a lifelong collaboration.

Branches of the Moriarty School of Dance are established in Bandon, Clonmel, Fermoy, Killarney, Mallow, Tralee, Waterford, and Youghal. Moriarty bequeaths her Cork school to Breda Quinn, a long-standing member of the Cork Ballet Company, who runs it with another Moriarty student, Sinéad Murphy, who creates a new dance school, Cork School of Dance, after Breda’s death in 2009.

Moriarty founds the Cork Ballet Group in 1947, the members recruited from her school. It gives its first performance in June of that year at the Cork Opera House. In 1954 the group is registered as a company under the name “Cork Ballet Company.” The company’s final season is 1993, the year following Moriarty’s death.

Irish Theatre Ballet is founded by Moriarty in the summer of 1959, and gives its first performance in December 1959. It is a small touring company of 10 to 12 dancers, which travels all over Ireland, going to some 70 venues annually with extracts from the classical ballets, contemporary works and folk ballets. In an attempt to resolve the constant financial difficulties, the Arts Council in 1963 insists on a merger with Patricia Ryan’s Dublin National Ballet. The amalgamation does not bring a solution to the financial problems besetting both companies and, after one joint season, the amalgamated company, Irish National Ballet, has to be disbanded in March 1964.

In 1973, the Irish government decides to fund a professional ballet company, the Irish Ballet Company, and entrusts it to Moriarty. Like Irish Theatre Ballet, it is a touring company which travels all over Ireland in two annual seasons. The company has a number of striking successes between 1978 and 1981. In 1983 the name of the company is changed to Irish National Ballet. The severe recession in Ireland during the 1980s and shrinking funds force the Irish National Ballet to disband in 1989.

Moriarty spends almost 60 years working for ballet in Ireland. Her amateur Cork Ballet Company is still the longest-lasting ballet company the country’s history. Her two professional touring companies bring ballet to all parts of Ireland for 21 years. She receives numerous awards for her work, among them an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in 1979.

During the last years of her life, Moriarty suffers ill-health, but continues her work with the Cork Ballet Company, bringing the shows to towns in the county. She dies on January 24, 1992 in Dublin.