CBC Digital Archives

1974: Celia Franca retires from the National Ballet

media clip
Celia Franca, who won national acclaim for founding the National Ballet of Canada, is hanging up her ballet slippers after a 23-year career with the famed company. In February 1951, Franca, an established dancer, choreographer, teacher and tour manager, arrived in Canada from London. Her mighty mission: establish a permanent national ballet company, recruit and train dancers, create a training school, hire artistic staff and fill the house with audiences. In this CBC Radio interview from 1970, Franca discusses the joys and pains of starting a company from scratch.
• Celia Franca was born on June 25, 1921, in London, England. At age four, Franca was enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music to study dance. She subsequently studied at the Royal Academy of Dance.
• As a teenager in 1936, Franca was featured as a soloist and the leading dramatic dancer in London's Ballet Rambert. A gifted performer, Franca was recognized early on as a rising star and was featured prominently in some of England's finest ballet companies. In 1947, Franca choreographed Eve of St. Agnes and Dance of Salome for the BBC.

• In 1950, a group of ballet enthusiasts in Toronto recruited Franca to establish Canada's first classical company. After surveying the lacklustre state of affairs in Canada, Franca said, "I think you need me here." She assembled the company in 10 short months and supported herself by working as a clerk at the department store Eaton's. On Nov. 12, 1951, the National Ballet of Canada made its debut in Toronto at the Eaton Auditorium.
• Franca would serve as the artistic director of the National Ballet for 24 years between 1951 and 1976. She was succeeded by David Haber.

• In 1959, Franca and Betty Oliphant established the National Ballet School. The well-respected school would go on to train celebrated Canadian dancers including Veronica Tennant, Frank Augustyn, Karen Kain, Rex Harrington, and James Kudelka.
• In 1967, Franca was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada. In 1985, she was promoted within the order and made a companion of the Order of Canada.

• "[Celia Franca] means everything to me, to what I was or have been - all my hopes and dreams. She made it all come true." - Veronica Tennant, June 26, 2001, Ottawa's National Arts Centre on the occasion of Franca's 80th birthday.

Also on January 11:
1982: The CBC moves its national news to 10 p.m. from 11 p.m. and introduces The Journal with hosts Barbara Frum and Mary Lou Finlay.
1995: A tentative deal is announced in the 103-day-old NHL players' NHL players' lockout. Players ratify the contract two days later and a 48-game season starts January 20.
1995: Dylex, Canada's largest clothing retailer - BiWay, Thriftys, Tip Top Tailors, Fairweather, Braemar - announces plans to close 200 stores and slash 1,800 jobs after filing for bankruptcy protection.
Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: April 22, 1970
Guest(s): Celia Franca
Host: Bill McNeil
Duration: 3:54

Last updated: February 28, 2014

Page consulted on October 23, 2014

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