25 June 1921
|Died||19 February 2007
|Known for||founder of The National Ballet of Canada|
|Awards||Order of Canada
Order of Ontario
Franca was born Celia Franks in London, England, the daughter of an East End tailor. Her family were Polish Jewish immigrants. She began to study dance at the age of 4 and was a scholarship student at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Dance. She made her professional debut aged 14. She caught the attention of choreographer Walter Gore and successfully auditioned for Marie Rambert's ballet company in 1936. She changed her name to Franca in emulation of Alicia Marks, who changed hers to Alicia Markova.
In 1941, aged 20, she was recognized as one of the finest dramatic ballerinas in the Sadler's Wells company. In 1947 she joined the Metropolitan Ballet as a soloist and ballet mistress. It was there that she began choreographing for television, creating the first two ballets – Eve of St. Agnes and Dance of Salomé – ever commissioned by the BBC.
In 1950, a group of Toronto balletomanes asked Franca to start a Canadian classical company. A determined woman who thrived on challenges, she did the impossible in only 10 months – while supporting herself as a file clerk at Eaton's department store, she recruited and trained dancers, staged some Promenade Concerts, organized a summer school, gathered a talented artistic staff and whipped her uneven but enthusiastic new company into shape for its opening on 12 November 1951.
She and Betty Oliphant founded the National Ballet School of Canada in 1959 to provide exceptional dancers for the Company. During her years with the National Ballet and since her retirement, Celia was recognized at home and abroad.
in 1979 Celia Franca, joined Merrilee Hodgins and Joyce Shietze as a Co-Artistic Director to The School of Dance in Ottawa as a nationally registered, educational, charitable, non-profit organization designed to provide professional training for dance.
Celia lived in Ottawa and, among many commitments, was a Co-Artistic Director of The School of Dance, a member of the board of governors of York University and the board of directors of the Canada Council and later served on the Board of Directors for the Canada Dance Festival Society.
Celia continued her association with the National Ballet, revising works for the Company such as Offenbach in the Underworld (1983) and staging The Nutcracker. She returned to the Company to produce a 35th Anniversary Gala Performance at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre.
In 1967, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 1985.
For the past year she had been in poor health after breaking vertebrae in her back. She died on 19 February 2007, aged 85, in an Ottawa Hospital.
- Carol Bishop-Gwyn (2011). The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca. Cormorant Books Inc. ISBN 978-1770860438.
- Celia Franca dies in hospital. canada.com (2007-02-19)
- Obituary, Jewish Chronicle, 13 April 2007, p. 20
- Official website
- The Celia Franca Foundation
- The National Ballet of Canada
- Celia Franca's Biography on the National Ballet of Canada website
- CBC Obituary
- Obituary on the Globe & Mail