Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Celia Franca passes from this world.

OTTAWA -- Celia Franca, the founder and former artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, died Monday at the age of 85, the dance company said.

The veteran dancer had been admitted to the Ottawa Hospital last week and died there Monday morning, said a National Ballet spokeswoman.

Born in London, England, Franca began dancing at the age of four and was a scholarship student at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Royal Academy of Dance.

She performed with several ballet companies and created the first two ballets ever commissioned by the BBC ("Eve of St. Agnes'' and "Dance of Salome'') before moving to Canada in 1951 on the insistence of a group of ballet enthusiasts who wanted her to found a classical ballet company.

Working as a file clerk at Eaton's in Toronto, Franca was able to come up with the funding and a group of dancers to form the National Ballet of Canada. Their first performance took place on Nov. 12, 1951, at Toronto's Eaton's Auditorium.

"Celia was more than the National Ballet's founder. She was its presiding spirit, its most stalwart supporter and the embodiment of its ideals and values,'' Karen Kain, the National Ballet of Canada's current artistic director, said in a release.

"She 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.''

Franca worked as a teacher and dancer at the dance company before retiring from the stage in 1959, the same year she founded Canada's National Ballet School.

She brought more than 30 Canadian ballets into the company repertoire and choreographed ballets including "Cinderella'' and "The Nutcracker.''

Franca served as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada for 24 years and was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada and in 1967.

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