Dame Ninette de Valois

Ninette de Valois was born Edris Stannus in 1898 in Blessington, Co Wicklow, and spent her childhood there in Baltiboys House. She developed a love of dancing through performing traditional Irish jigs. Her family relocated to England on her Father’s death, when she was aged 7, and subsequently, she began ballet lessons aged 10. An invitation from William Butler Yeats in 1927 saw her return to Ireland to establish the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet. There she collaborated with Yeats on his Plays for Dancers, with regular performances staged until 1933 when she returned to London.

Ninette de Valois’s legacy to ballet worldwide is almost unquantifiable. Fondly known as ‘Madam’, she founded The Royal Ballet, one of the world’s foremost ballet companies, in 1931. Among many other remarkable achievements, she established the Birmingham Royal Ballet; established the Royal Ballet School; danced professionally as a Soloist with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, widely regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century; established the State Ballet in Turkey; studied with acclaimed teachers including Edouard Espinosa; mentored younger dancers, among them the iconic Alicia Markova who became a Prima Ballerina Assoluta; and founded the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet.

In Ireland, the leading dancers of the time emerged from the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet, as did the teachers of many generations of current Irish dancers, among them Anne Maher, director of Ballet Ireland and chairperson of the Irish Ballet Forum. In an overdue celebration of this most influential figure in the history of ballet, and in acknowledgment of the 85th anniversary of the establishment of The Abbey Theatre School of Ballet, leaders from the world of dance will gather at the symposium, Come Dance With Me on Sunday 14 October, organised by Irish Ballet Forum.

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