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A History of Irish Ballet from 1927 to 1963


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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Conclusion 147


Conclusion Considering the information that this study has uncovered and presented, as well as the logical conclusions that have been deduced from the find- ings, one would have to question why the facts have remained unknown or undocumented for so long. Various factors (such as the lack of a ballet archive, the relative newness of dance as an academic subject in Ireland, the passage of time and its destructive ef fect) would all have obscured some of the past to a certain extent, but that does not fully explain why thirty-six years of Irish ballet history has been forgotten or concealed. My research has also uncovered an additional factor that has contributed to the blurring of our past: Joan Denise Moriarty, the director of the Irish National Ballet. Moriarty, whether consciously or not, added to the prevailing igno- rance by cultivating the misconception that there was little tradition of ballet in Ireland before her. Programme notes from Cork Ballet Company’s Silver Jubilee performance (1947–72) are testament to this. In the opening sentence of the programme, which chronicles Moriarty’s activities from 1947 to 1972, all previous Irish ballet history is discarded: In a small country like Ireland, having no tradition of ballet, and boasting no more than a handful of devotees of the art, it seemed utter madness in 1947 for Joan Denise Moriarty to contemplate founding a non-professional ballet company […]1 Contrary to this account, and as recorded throughout this book, Moriarty was very much aware of the traditions...

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