Celia Franca, Photo: Janine; Karen Kain, Celia Franca and Veronica Tennant, Photo: Bruce Zinger; Celia Franca in Lilac Garden, Photo: Ken Bell
Celia Franca, companion of the order of Canada, founder of The National Ballet of Canada, and Artistic Director for 24 years, died at the age of 85 today in The Ottawa Hospital.
Says current National Ballet artistic director, Karen Kain,
“[Franca] inspired generations of dancers by her example and her devotion to the art of ballet. And most importantly, she made us believe in ourselves and that no goal was ever out of reach. She will be missed by everyone who cares about ballet.”
Born in London, England in 1921, Franca was recognized as one of the finest dramatic ballerinas in the Valois’s Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) before joining the Metropolitan Ballet in 1947. In 1951, she left an illustrious career in England to accept the nearly impossible challenge of founding a classical ballet company in Canada on just 10 months notice, with no infrastructure support to speak of. Supporting herself financially as a file clerk at Eaton’s, she recruited and trained dancers. Miraculously, the first performance of The National Ballet of Canada took place on November 12, 1951 at the Eaton Auditorium, here in Toronto.
A force to be reckoned with, and a fearless leader, Celia Franca trained her dancers by her own example, introduced guest artists such as Rudolf Nureyev and Lynn Seymour to Canada, and toured the company across North America, Mexico, Japan and Europe, developing a strong international reputation for the company. With Betty Oliphant, Franca founded Canada’s National Ballet School in 1959.
To build a repertoire, she called on English choreographers like Antony Tudor and John Cranko and choreographed story ballets like Cinderella (1968) and The Nutcracker (1964). But throughout her tenure as Artistic Director, Franca emphasized the development of Canadian choreographers, bringing to life more than 30 Canadian ballets and launching the National Ballet’s Choreographic Workshops.
The National Ballet of Canada has dedicated its 2006/07 season to Celia Franca, including upcoming performances of Cranko’s Taming Of The Shrew and the Seventh International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize.