The 1950s - Boston Ballet

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The 1950s

E. Virginia Williams and Sydney Leonard watch a performance of the New England Civic Ballet

Photographer unknown, circa 1957


As a young woman E. Virginia Williams faced limited opportunities in pursuing a dance career, she chose instead to focus on teaching and training dancers.

Detail from the cover of Dance Magazine, July 1959 featuring dancers Fern MacLarnon and Donald McPherson

Jack Mitchell

Images from the personal collection of E. Virginia Williams. Gift of John Moller, Jr. & Maria Moller-Hernandez.

As a young dancer in Boston, professional performance options were limited to vaudeville or burlesque, neither of which was an option for E. VIRGINIA WILLIAMS, so she focused on teaching and training young dancers, opening her first studio in Malden in the 1930s. By 1953 she had moved her studio into Boston next to The New England Conservatory in Back Bay.

Her teaching inspired decades of promising dancers, many of whom would go on to have illustrious careers in dance. Students like Eleanor D’Antuono (Ballet Russe, American Ballet Theatre), Sara Leland, Earle Sieveling, and Robert Rodham (New York City Ballet), and James Capp (The National Ballet, Washington) would return as guests artists for the New England Civic Ballet, and later the Boston Ballet. Others would remain as founding members of Boston Ballet and create the foundations of the world-class company that has become part of the fabric of the Boston Arts and Culture community. Continue below for some of the milestones and achievements from those early years.

1956: E. Virginia Williams moves her ballet school from the Back Bay to a studio at 186 Massachusetts Avenue, opposite the Lowes State Theatre. The School offered children’s classes as well as a Professional Division. The schools “fundamental purpose” was “to provide its students with a training equivalent to that offered professional dancers by the great European schools.”

1958: Out of her Boston School of Ballet, sometimes called The New England School of Ballet, E. Virginia Williams created a small concert troupe, The New England Civic Ballet, to perform at Festivals and small venues throughout New England. Many of William’s former students who had gone on to dance with professional companies returned as guest artists. Among those returning during that first year were Eleanor D’Antuono who was dancing at the time with The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

New England Civic Ballet performance at the 10th Annual Cape Ann Festival of the Arts. Performance included Les Sylphide. Eleanor D'Antuono & James Capp danced the leads.

Images from the personal collection of E. Virginia Williams. Gift of John Moller, Jr. & Maria Moller-Hernandez.

May 21, 1959: E. Virginia Williams and the New England Civic Ballet traveled to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, PA to take part in the First Annual Northeastern Regional Ballet Festival. Several dance notables were in the audience, including GEORGE BALANCHINE, Alexandra Danilova, and Ted Shawn, founder of Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival.

New England Civic Ballet performed E. Virginia Williams The Young Loves, set to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Following their appearance at the Ballet Festival two dancers from NECB were featured on the cover of the July 1959  issue of Dance Magazine entitled ” Regional Ballet: America’s Fastest Growing Youth Movement.” Doris Hering’s article inside the issue about the festival praised NECB performance, stating, “Imagination and musicianship shone through The Young Loves, choreographed by E. Virginia Williams for her New England Civic Ballet of Boston. As soon as the curtain went up, and one saw four young girls standing in profile against the simple setting of velvet panels, one knew that here were dancers…”