Nostalgia: Legendary figure who put Cork ballet on the map

Nostalgia: Legendary figure who put Cork ballet on the map
The Irish Ballet Company at Emmet Place in 1967.

IN April 1979 Joan Denise Moriarty’s most famous ballet, The Playboy of the Western World, made its American debut in New York.

Dr Joan Denise Moriarty, founder of Irish Theatre Ballet, circa 1979.	Picture: Tom Burke/Independent News And Media/Getty Images
Dr Joan Denise Moriarty, founder of Irish Theatre Ballet, circa 1979. Picture: Tom Burke/Independent News And Media/Getty Images

It was one of many highlights in the career of the legendary dancer, choreographer and teacher, so synonymous with Cork and with ballet.

Having been brought up in England, Ms Moriarty returned to Cork in 1933, setting up her first school of dance in Mallow a year later.

Monica Loughman and Alan Foley performing in Cork City Ballet’s Winter Season in 2004.
Monica Loughman and Alan Foley performing in Cork City Ballet’s Winter Season in 2004.

She moved to the city in 1940 and founded the Cork Ballet Group in 1947.

She would go on to tour with various companies throughout Ireland and in Europe and in 1959 founded the Irish Theatre Ballet.

Members of Cork Ballet Company pictured at Cork Opera House before a trip to Limerick in 1952.
Members of Cork Ballet Company pictured at Cork Opera House before a trip to Limerick in 1952.

In 1973, the Irish government decided to fund a professional ballet company, entrusted to Moriarty: the Irish Ballet Company.

It is 40 years this month since the Playboy’s first run, which was praised in The New York Times for its charm.

“All the Irish music you would want to hear in one evening is another incentive,” the review said. “Foot tapping in the theater [sic] was endemic.”

A seamstress at work at the Joan Denise Moriarty Ballet Studio, Emmet Place, Cork in 1957.
A seamstress at work at the Joan Denise Moriarty Ballet Studio, Emmet Place, Cork in 1957.

Ms Moriarty’s choreography was matched with music composed and played by The Chieftains and was also performed in Cork, of course, and throughout Ireland.

More than 30 years later, in 2012, ballet stars from all over the world came together for the Joan Denise Moriarty Centenary Gala at the Firkin Crane.

One of Ms Moriarty’s best known pupils, founder and artistic director of Cork City Ballet Alan Foley, directed the gala and included an adaptation of her ‘Playboy’.

The Irish Ballet Company at Emmet Place in 1967.
The Irish Ballet Company at Emmet Place in 1967.

To celebrate the anniversary of that New York performance, we pay tribute to the great teacher herself but also the ballet culture which has been in place in Cork city for decades and continues to the present day.

From homegrown talent to visiting stars, Cork’s place in national and international ballet is assured.

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