On February 19 and beyond, take a moment to remember British-born Celia Franca (1921-2007) (aka Celia Franks), who almost single-handedly launched the National Ballet of Canada in 1951 by sheer determination and served as its artistic director for 24 years. Previously, Celia Franca studied dance at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Dance in the United Kingdom. She was recognized as one of the outstanding dramatic ballerinas at age 20 in the Sadler’s Wells (later Royal) Ballet company based in the London borough of Islington. In 1947, Celia Franca joined the Metropolitan Ballet as a ballet mistress and soloist. Additionally, she began choreographing ballets for television for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1950, Canadian ballet enthusiasts asked Celia Franca to start a Canadian classical ballet company which she accomplished within 10 months while working as a file clerk at an Eaton’s department store. Hence, the National Ballet of Canada opened on November 12, 1951. Franca’s imaginative vision was often constrained by the desire and need to please audiences with conservative ballet tastes.
Celia Franca and Nancy Elizabeth “Betty” Oliphant co-founded the National Ballet School of Canada in 1959, combining the elements of a mainstream education with a focus on ballet dancing. Franca retired from the National Ballet of Canada and moved to Ottawa, serving on the board of the Canada Council for the Arts. Celia Franca's awards included membership in the Order of Canada (member, 1967; companion, 1985), the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (1994), the Molson Prize (1974) and the Canadian Council of the Arts Diplôme d'honneur 1986.
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