Dancer, teacher, choreographer and artistic director Ninette de Valois (1898–2001) founded The Royal Ballet. The importance of her role in creating not only a world-class national company and school but a unique national style of dance and a British audience for ballet cannot be overstated.
De Valois was born Edris Stannus in Baltyboys, County Wicklow, and trained at the Lila Field Academy for Children. In her early career De Valois danced in revues and music-halls around London while studying with Edouard Espinosa, Enrico Cecchetti and Nicolas Legat, as well as running her own school in Eastbourne. She was a member of Ballets Russes 1923–6. In 1926 she made an agreement with Lilian Baylis at the Old Vic to create dances in support of the theatre, which led in 1931 to the reopening of Sadler’s Wells and the founding of Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later The Royal Ballet. She employed Nikolay Sergeyev 1932–9 to stage classical Mariinsky ballets on the Company, and in 1935 employed Frederick Ashton as resident choreographer. Her company was made resident at the Royal Opera House in 1946, reopening the building at the end of World War II with The Sleeping Beauty. She stood down as Director in 1963 to direct The Royal Ballet School, retiring in 1970.
De Valois was made a CBE in 1947, DBE in 1951, awarded the Companion of Honour in 1983 and the Order of Merit in 1992, alongside many other honours.