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Franca, Celia (1921—)

Franca, Celia (1921—)

British ballerina and choreographer who was founding director of the National Ballet of Canada and its director for 24 years. Born in London, England, on June 25, 1921; studied dance at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Dancing.

The daughter of a British tailor, Celia Franca was born in London, England, on June 25, 1921, and studied ballet from the age of four with the aid of scholarships and loans. She attended the Guildhall School and the Royal Academy of Dancing, where she apprenticed with famed British ballet teacher, Marie Rambert . She was also the student of Stanislas Idzikowski, Judith Espinosa , and Antony Tudor. Franca made her debut at age 15, performing in The Planets with the Ballet Rambert, and in 1939, as a member of the Ballet des Trois Arts, she choreographed her first piece, Midas. Franca went on to dance and choreograph with Sadler's Wells, the Metropolitan Ballet, the Ballet Jooss, and other companies. In 1951, she was recommended as a possible founding director of a Canadian classical company by Dame Ninette de Valois , the founder of Sadler's Wells, who called Franca "the greatest dramatic dancer the Wells ever had" (Maclean's, August 20, 1955).

Franca, who was once described as "a mite of a creature," achieved the almost impossible, pulling the Canadian company together in ten months. While working as a file clerk to support herself, she recruited and trained dancers, selected an artistic staff, staged some Promenade Concerts, and organized a summer school. The troupe made its debut on November 12, 1951, in Toronto, including in its first program Franca's staging of Michel Fokine's Les Sylphides. Overcoming financial difficulties and "technical roughness" during its fledgling years, Franca deftly guided her new company. She brought in guest artists and in 1959, with Betty Oliphant , founded the National Ballet School. In building a repertoire, Franca relied on the classics and created her own ballets when necessary, including Cinderella (1968), which won an Emmy in 1970, and several versions of The Nutcracker (1955 and 1964). Mindful of the need to encourage Canadian choreography, she included 30 Canadian ballets in the company's repertoire and started the National Ballet's Choreographic Workshops. Under Franca's directorship, the company toured throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Europe, establishing an international reputation of note.

Franca has received countless honors for her achievements and contributions to the arts in Canada, including the Canadian Conference of the Arts' Diplome d'Honneur in 1986. In 1987, she received the St. George's Society of Toronto award and was among the first to be honored with the Order of Ontario. Since her retirement in 1975, Franca has lived in Ottawa, where she has remained active in civic and national artistic programs. She is a former member of the board of Theatre Ballet of Canada and has served as an artistic director of The School of Dance in Ottawa and on the board of directors of the Canada Dance Festival Society. She has also supervised a popular lecture series in dance at the University of Ottawa.

sources:

Current Biography 1956. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

Information from The National Ballet of Canada, The Walter Carsen Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

suggested reading:

Neufield, James. Power to Rise: The Story of The National Ballet of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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