Ballet Stars

Legendary British Ballet Dancer Christine DuBoulay Ellis Passed Away

Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Christine DuBoulay Ellis, legendary figure in classical ballet, died on Saturday, November 9, of complications from Parkinson's disease. She was 96.

She was one of the last surviving members of the original Sadler's Wells cast of The Sleeping Beauty, which opened at the Royal Opera House, London, in 1946.


Christine was born on June 12, 1923 in Ealing, England, a western suburb of London. Her father, Guy George Houssemayne-DuBoulay was a Royal Air Force pilot of Huguenot descent, and was appointed director of intelligence with the Royal Air Force Delegation and joint chiefs of staff 1941-1945 (awarded the Legion of Merit, one of the highest awards bestowed on a non-American). Her mother was Ruby Violet Emmeline Knox of Dublin, Ireland.

Christine DuBoulay studied ballet at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School, and art and costume design at The Central School of Art in London. As World War II was exploding in 1942, she joined the International Ballet. The company toured extensively throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

Christine was married to the late Richard Ellis, a principal dancer with the Sadler's Wells Ballet (which became the Royal Ballet in 1956). Richard was one of Dame Margot Fonteyn's first dancing partners in The Royal Ballet, and a WWII hero serving in The Royal Navy during the Omaha Beach invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He danced the role of Herr Drosselmeyer in the Ruth Page production of the Chicago Nutcracker for 26 years. While in The Royal Ballet, Richard and Christine performed throughout Europe and two tours of the United States during which they first visited Chicago.

While with The Royal Ballet, under the leadership of Dame Ninette de Valois, Christine DuBoulay performed in 37 ballets (10 of which she was in the original cast): most notably Coppelia, Giselle, Rake's Progress and Hamlet. While in The Royal Ballet, one of Miss DuBoulay's regular partners was the world-renowned dancer/choreographer John Cranko. Other famous colleagues of The Royal Ballet company at that time were Dame Margot Fonteyn, Sir Frederick Ashton, Freddie Franklin, Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann.

Following several US tours with The Royal Ballet, Richard Ellis and Christine DuBoulay decided to come to Chicago where, in 1952, they created the Ellis DuBoulay School of Ballet, which thrived for over 40 years in Chicago. Their syllabus incorporated the elements of the three major schools of ballet: Vaganova, Royal Academy of Dancing and Cecchetti. Over the course of 40 years, they taught thousands of students. Their students were accepted into 31 dance companies throughout the US and Europe, including such prestigious ballet companies as American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet, Washington Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet and Basel Opera Ballet.

Their student roster was a Who's Who of the classical ballet and musical theater worlds: Michael Bjerknes, Heidi Ellison, Franca Barchiesi, Helene Alexopoulos, Violette Verdy, Eleanor D'Antuono, Ivan Nagy, Bruce Marks, Toni Lander, William Carter, Pattie Obey and such stage artists as Marilu Henner, Audrey Hepburn, Julie Harris and Barbra Streisand.

In 1959, Richard Ellis and Christine DuBoulay established the Illinois Ballet, which premiered at the Anthenaeum Theatre in Chicago (formerly the St. Alphonsus Church Auditorium). They toured their standard classical ballet repertoire throughout Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The Illinois Ballet appeared 21 times on WTTW-Channel 11 broadcasts and won three Emmys. The Illinois Ballet produced 33 works, 20 of which were original choreography for the company. In addition to performing many roles for the Illinois Ballet, Christine DuBoulay Ellis created over 300 costumes.

In Christine DuBoulay Ellis's book, "A Leap Across the Atlantic: The Memoirs of Two Ballet Dancers," she reflected, "We just hope that over the years we have given some of them [our students] a love of ballet, its grace, beauty of line, awareness of posture, strength and discipline—all of which could be of help towards their goal in life, whether they chose to be professional dancers or not."

Always passionate about the importance of the history of the art form of classical ballet, "Mrs. E" always encouraged her students to study the history of the legendary dancers and choreographers. She was adamant that her students read about the art they were studying. Having first met Robert Joffrey in 1955, and a dear friend of Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater, when The Joffrey Ballet relocated into its new headquarters to The Joffrey Tower in the Loop, it was Christine DuBoulay Ellis who established the Joffrey Ballet Library.

Reflecting on the news of Christine DuBoulay Ellis's passing, Ashley Wheater stated: "Christine was an artist who personified grace and integrity. She believed in the power of art to enrich our spirits and touched so many lives in the process. We will forever be grateful to her for her many contributions to our Company and our art form. Her example will live on in our hearts forever."

In addition to her illustrious dancing career, Christine was an accomplished watercolorist and exhibited her work both in Michigan and Illinois. She was also a devoted Cubs fan with a longtime crush on Ryne Sandberg.

A memorial service celebrating Christine's life will be held on December 4, 2019, beginning at 3:00 p.m. at The Joffrey Ballet Tower, 10 East Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois 60601.

In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to the Christine DuBoulay Ellis Scholarship Fund at The Joffrey Ballet.

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