Celia Franca (1921-2007)

1994 Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Dance)

Celia Franca was only four and a half when she entered London's Guildhall School on scholarship. There she learned music, dance, theatre and elocution, and acquired the self-discipline and respect for excellence which have marked her career. In 1951, Canadians seeking to develop professional dance here approached this ballet mistress, choreographer and dancer for advice.

Her response? The founding of the National Ballet of Canada. She recalls the early years building the company as "exciting and agonizing." Inspired by her ardent perfectionism, the National, which she directed until 1974, gained renown as one of the major classical companies of the world. It performed her versions of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Giselle and made stars like Veronica Tennant, Frank Augustyn and Karen Kain. "I wanted new everything," she said, bringing over 30 Canadian ballets into the repertoire. In 1959, with ballet mistress Betty Oliphant, she founded the National Ballet School.

Since 1978 she has been Co-Artistic Director of The School of Dance in Ottawa. With "no time to write memoirs," she is "a sort of mother figure" to the many young artists seeking the benefit of her wisdom. A former member of the Canada Council, she has won numerous awards, including the Molson Prize in 1974. She became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1985.