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Dame of British dance dies aged 102
Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of The Royal Ballet, has died at her home in London aged 102.

The company announced the news yesterday with “deep regret”. Sir Anthony Dowell, the Royal Ballet’s director, said: “With the death of Dame Ninette de Valois, we acknowledge the passing of one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most influential figures in the world of the Arts.”

On a personal note, Sir Anthony said Dame Ninette became a central part of his life when he joined The Royal Ballet School aged eleven and had remained so ever since. “She established classical ballet in Britain, taking care that schooling and new choreography ensured its future and her vision and influence continue to reach out far beyond the companies and school that she created,” he said.

“Through her achievements she will remain a source of inspiration and encouragement as she has been throughout her life to so many of us as dancer, choreographer, director, teacher and mentor. It is hard to imagine a future without Madam. The Royal Ballet is part of her legacy, created through her energy, determination and imagination, which we shall continue to cherish in the years to come."

Dame Ninette, founder of The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School, is acknowledged as the earliest and greatest influence in the development of classical ballet in the UK.

As a choreographer, she created many works, of which the acknowledged masterpieces were Job (1931), The Rake's Progress (1935) and Checkmate (1937). The Royal Ballet staged The Rake’s Progress and a selection of excerpts from her other works in celebration of her 100th birthday at the Barbican, when the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden was closed for refurbishment, in 1998. Birmingham Royal Ballet restaged her 1940 wartime success The Prospect Before Us especially for the occasion. Although Dame Ninette was unable to attend the public performances of these ballets, she did attend a special private event at the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge in Richmond Park, on her actual birthday.

In her youth, De Valois was a virtuoso dancer with the Massine, Lopokova and Diaghilev Companies. In 1926 she opened her own ballet school, the London Academy of Choreographic Art, and persuaded Lilian Baylis that her students should appear in the operatic and Shakespearean performances at the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells Theatres to give them professional experience. A full evening of ballet was produced at the Old Vic on 5 May 1931 and repeated at Sadler’s Wells a few days later. This is generally considered the beginning of professional classical ballet in England.

De Valois directed her young Company as it developed in its early years at Sadler’s Wells, establishing home-grown artists and repertory. She ensured that it survived World War II and accomplished its move to Covent Garden when, as the Sadler's Wells Ballet, it reopened the Royal Opera House on 20 February 1946 with The Sleeping Beauty. She then established a second company, the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet) in its original home at London’s Sadler’s Wells. In 1956, ten years later, her endeavours were rewarded with the granting of the Royal Charter to both Companies and the Royal Ballet School.

De Valois continued as director of The Royal Ballet until 1963 and remained actively involved in the work of the School until 1971. In retirement, she continued to be deeply concerned with the life of all of the organisations which she created and helped to establish, both in this country and abroad.

She received many honours, including the CBE (1947), DBE (1951), CH (1981), Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (1950) and OM (1992). Honorary degrees have been conferred upon her by the Universities of London (1947), Reading (1951), Oxford (1955), Aberdeen (1958) and Cambridge (1992). In 1974, she was awarded the Erasmus Prize and, in July 1992, the Society of West End Theatre's Special Award for outstanding achievement in the arts. She published four books, Invitation to the Ballet (1937), Come Dance with Me (1957), Step by Step (1977) and The Cycle, a book of poems originally published in 1985 and recently revised.

Fri Mar 9 2001 (4:15:23 PM)