Ninette de Valois: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ninette de Valois

Ninette de Valois at age 16
Born Edris Stannus
6 June 1898(1898-06-06)
Baltiboys, County Wicklow, Ireland
Died 8 March 2001 (aged 102)
Barnes, London, England
Occupation Choreographer, dancer and company director
Years active 1900s-1990s
Spouse(s) Arthur Connell

Dame Ninette de Valois, OM, CH, DBE (6 June 1898 – 8 March 2001) was an Irish born British dancer, teacher, choreographer and director of classical ballet. Most notably, 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 leading ballet companies in the world today. She also established the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School. As one of the creators of modern British ballet, she is widely regarded as one of the most influential personalities in ballet history.



Born Edris Stannus in Baltyboys House, Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland, Ninette de Valois was the second daughter of a British army officer and Lillith Graydon-Smith, a renowned glassmaker[1]. 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, later training professionally at the Lila Field Academy for Children, aged 13. 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 Serge Diaghilev. She remained with the company for three years, being promoted to the rank of Soloist, and creating roles in some of the companies most famous ballets, including Les Biches and Le Train Bleu.

After leaving the Ballets Russes in 1926, 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 theatre at that time, and in 1928 she also acquired and refurbished the Sadler's Wells theatre, with the intention of it becoming 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 [[Vic-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.

At its formation, the Vic-Wells ballet had only six female dancers, with de Valois herself working as lead dancer and choreographer. The company performed its first full ballet production on 5 May 1931 at the Old Vic, with Anton Dolin as guest star. It's first performance at Sadler’s Wells, was on 15 May 1931. As a result of the success of the ballet company, de Valois hired new dancers and choreographers to work with the company. She retired from the stage herself after Alicia Markova joined the company and was appointed Prima Ballerina in 1933.

Under de Valois' direction, the ballet company flourished in the 1930s, becoming one of the first Western dance companies to perform the classical ballet repertoire made famous by the Imperial Russian Ballet. She also set about establishing a British repertory, engaging Frederick Ashton as Principal Choreographer in 1935, and choreographing a number of her own ballets, including her most notable works, Job (1931), The Rake’s Progress (1935) and Checkmate (1937). Eventually, the company became one of the starriest in the world, with dancers like Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Moira Shearer, Beryl Grey, and Michael Somes. In 1949 the Sadler Wells Ballet was a sensation when they toured the United States. Margot Fonteyn instantly became an international celebrity. During early 1950s, with the help of de Valois, the first ballet school of Turkish State Opera and Ballet in Istanbul was established.

De Valois was not one to rest on laurels, though. She made sure that her company had a constant supply of talent, and in later years the company had such stars as Svetlana Beriosova, Antoinette Sibley, Nadia Nerina, Lynn Seymour, and, most sensationally, Rudolf Nureyev. de Valois also invited choreographers like Sir Kenneth MacMillan and George Balanchine to work with her company. She formally retired from the Royal Ballet in 1963, but her presence continued to loom large in the company.

She was known as very stern and formidable, and perhaps for that reason someone gave her the nickname 'Madam.' The nickname stuck, and from then on even in formal articles and interviews she was called 'Madam.' She would good-naturedly sign 'Madam' in correspondence.

The Royal Ballet continues to be recognised as Britain's leading classical ballet company and one of the foremost companies of the 20th century and is based at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London.

In 1935, she married Arthur Connell, an Irish surgeon who died in 1986. They did not have children.[2] Ninette de Valois was the cousin of author Wei Wu Wei.

She continued to make public appearances until her death at age 102 in London.


  • Job (1931)
  • Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1934)
  • The Rake's Progress (1935)
  • As You Like It (1936)
  • Checkmate (1937)
  • Every Goose Can
  • The Gods Go A-Begging
  • Barabau
  • The Prospect Before Us (1940)
  • Keloğlan (1950)
  • At the Fountain Head (1963)
  • Çeşmebaşı (1965)
  • Sinfonietta (1966)

Honours and awards

De Valois was made a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur of France in 1950, and was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1951, a Companion of Honour in 1982. In 1992 she was made a member of the Order of Merit.



Honoris causa degrees


  • De Valois, Ninette (1937). Invitation to the Ballet. London: Bodley Head. OCLC 59460167. 
  • De Valois, Ninette (1957). Come Dance with Me; A Memoir, 1898-1956. London: H. Hamilton. OCLC 4063947. 
  • De Valois, Ninette (1977). Step by Step: The Formation of an Establishment. London: W. H. Allen. ISBN 0491015984. 

See also


External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address