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A History of Irish Ballet from 1927 to 1963

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Victoria O'Brien

This work presents a detailed study of the five key ballet organisations that operated in Ireland between 1927 and 1963: the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet, the Abbey School of Ballet, the Sara Payne School and Company, the Irish Ballet Club and the National Ballet School and Company.
By examining a previously neglected dimension of Irish artistic life, this study aims to provide a greater appreciation of the various roles that ballet has played in the development of Irish cultural activity. It records the rich interaction between the different dance artists and movements and their collaborators across the entire spectrum of Irish artistic endeavour, including Cecil ffrench Salkeld, F. R. Higgins, Mainie Jellett, Patrick Kavanagh, J. F. Larchet, Louis le Brocquy, Elizabeth Maconchy, Donagh MacDonagh, Brinsley MacNamara, Micheál Mac Laimmóir, Norah McGuinness, A. J. Potter, Lennox Robinson, Michael Bowles, Mary Devenport O’Neill, Anne Yeats and W. B. Yeats.
This book breaks significant new ground for an area in which little published information exists. The author pieces together research on the schools and companies from interviews, ballet programmes, playbills, libretti, scores, memoirs, contemporary press reviews, literary articles and photographs, to form a fascinating narrative of the under-researched world of Irish ballet.

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Introduction 1

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Introduction Irish ballet remains largely unrecorded and neglected in the pantheon of the Irish arts. With the exception of an ever-dwindling circle of devotees, most followers of the Irish arts and its history have never heard of Cepta Cullen, Muriel Kelly, Sara Payne or Patricia Ryan, nor of the landmark dance performances they created, including An Coitín Dearg, Puck Fair, The Scarecrow and Gamble, No Gamble. If the Irish public have not heard of these people and their works it is not their fault. Up until now, there has been no record to review, no consoli- dated dance archive to consult, no recorded exhibition of related artefacts. In fact, up until now there has been no coherent narrative on the subject of ballet in Ireland, either by academic, popular or amateur presses. So if there has been no ballet history of Ireland published to date, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is no history of ballet in Ireland. Although somewhat unorthodox for its time and place, my own pre- liminary dance training at the Irish National College of Dance in Dublin did include a strong dance history bias. Film and slides from The Royal Ballet’s ‘Ballet For All’ educational programme, and extracts from Margaret Van Praagh and Peter Brinson’s The Choreographic Art (1963) constituted much of these introductory classes. The subject of the history of Irish ballet, however, was never broached. It was only afterwards, through my studies as a vocational dance student in England, that I...

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