Ninette de Valois

Ninette de Valois was born in County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1898 and studied dancing under several teachers, including Espinosa and Enrico Cecchetti. After dancing with several companies, including Massine's, Lopokova's and Diaghilev's, in 1926 she founded her own school of dancing, the first step in her ambition to create a British ballet company. She offered her pupils to Lillian Baylis, Director of the Old Vic Theatre, to appear in opera and Shakespeare, and over the next four years created several small ballets that were produced there. In 1931 Baylis reopened Sadler's Wells Theatre and de Valois moved her school there and founded a small ballet company. The Vic-Wells Ballet's first full-evening performance was on May 5, 1931 at the Old Vic, with Anton Dolin as guest star. Once Alicia Markova was engaged as ballerina, de Valois was able to mount the great Russian classical ballets. She also set about creating a native repertory: she continued to choreograph herself (including her three masterpieces, Job, The Rake's Progress and Checkmate), and, in 1935 Ashton joined the company as Principal Choreographer.
During World War II the Company toured England, building itself a national reputation. In 1946 it gave the first performance at the reopened Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the theatre that was to become its permanent home. That year de Valois established a second company at Sadler's Wells Theatre (Sadler's Wells Ballet, later Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet and, since 1990, Birmingham Royal Ballet). De Valois was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1951, a Companion of Honour in 1983 and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1992. Her ballets include Job (1931), La Création du monde (1933), The Haunted Ballroom (1934), The Rake's Progress (1935), Checkmate (1937), The Prospect Before Us (1940) and Don Quixote (1950). She died on March 8, 2001.