June 25th: Antoni Gaudi & Celia Franca

The Google Doodle today recognizes the birth of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, born on this date in 1952. Here at Speaking Up, we’ll look into another artistic field of physical expression to learn about ballerina and company founder Celia Franca.

Franca, born June 25, 1921 in London, was dancing professionally by age 14 and had founded the Canadian National Ballet in Toronto by age 30. In the intervening time, Franca studied in London, choreographed ballets for British television, and then moved to Canada to take the National Ballet from just an idea to its debut in only 10 months. Franca was recruited by arts patrons who wanted to see a Canadian ballet company that could rival others on the international stage. While she was building the company, auditioning dancers and providing artistic direction, Franca had to support herself by working as a clerk in a department store, as the grand idea did not have financial backing.

Portrait of Celia Franca (photographer unknown; Library and Archives Canada) in 1946.

Portrait of Celia Franca (photographer unknown; Library and Archives Canada) in 1946.

After founding the ballet, Franca stayed on as its artistic director for 24 years. She also co-founded the National Ballet School, a feeder academy for the ballet and one of the most renowned in the world. The facilities were recently upgraded, with construction completed in 2005, and the main building was named the Celia Franca Centre in her honor.

Franca served in many other roles promoting dance and the arts, including serving on the boards of the nonprofit Ottawa School of Dance, the Canada Dance Festival Society, and the Canada Council. For her contributions she was honored as an Officer and Companion of the Order of Canada. Her legacy also includes, of course, the many international ballet stars trained at the National Ballet School and in the National Ballet of Canada itself.

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