Virtual Museum

Virtual Museum

Kay Ambrose

Born 1914 in Surrey, England; Died 1971 London, England

As The National Ballet of Canada’s first Artistic Advisor, Kay Ambrose was vital to the development of the company in its early years. From 1952 to 1961, Ambrose designed sets and costumes for 30 productions, including Coppélia, Swan Lake, and other works that established the National Ballet’s presence in Canada. But alongside her status as a prolific designer, she wore many other hats during her time as Artistic Advisor, from public lecturer, to makeup artist, to chef for the dancers and beyond.

Ambrose’s career with The National Ballet of Canada began suddenly. In 1951, she traveled to Canada to complete Beginners, Please!, a book about ballet she was writing with National Ballet Founder Celia Franca. Though planning to stay for only six weeks, she remained in Canada to assist Franca launch the fledgling company. Already an author and illustrator of several books about ballet, Ambrose brought her expertise in classical ballet as well as Indian dance, garnered from her years working with the Rom Gopal Dance Company in India. 

She additionally provided a creative hand and a discerning eye, ready to sketch at a moment’s notice. Ambrose was known to bring her sketchbook nearly everywhere she went, including to sporting events such as hockey and wrestling matches, where she was fascinated by “the way people move”.  Additionally, Ambrose carried her sketchbook to the public lectures she delivered while touring with the National Ballet, demonstrating her craft while discussing ballet with students and the public.

In part, Ambrose was inspired to remain with The National Ballet of Canada once she witnessed its potential to grow into a dance company of international excellence. Speaking of the company in the Los Angeles Times in 1958, Ambrose recalled: “They have what Canada has, and it jumps out at you the moment the curtain goes up. I think it is vitality.”

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Associated Productions

Étude (1951)

Giselle: Act II (1952)

Casse-Noisette: Act II (1952)

L’Après-midi d’un Faune (1952)

Coppélia (Two Acts) (1952)

Giselle (1952)

Le Pommier (1952)

Lilac Garden (1953)

Swan Lake: Act II (1953)

Gala Performance (1953)

Dances from the Classics (1953)

Dark of the Moon (1953)

Offenbach in the Underworld (1955)

Swan Lake (1955)

The Lady from the Sea (1955)

Dark Elegies (1955)

The Nutcracker (1955)

Jeune Pas de Deux (1956)

Les Rendez-vous (1956)

The Fisherman and His Soul (1956)

Pas de Chance (1956)

Giselle (1956)

Dances from The Sleeping Beauty (1957)

Winter Night (1957)

Le Carnaval (1957)

Coppélia (1958)

The Mermaid (1959)

Pas de Six (1959)

Princess Aurora (1960)

Barbara Allen (Dark of the Moon) (1960)

Top image credit: The National Ballet of Canada tutus on display. Photo by Setareh Sarmadi.