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RTE Archives
Political nostalgia

Taoiseach told the Irish Ballet Company were 'embarrassingly bad'


A TOP CIVIL servant in the 1970s told the Taoiseach that the Irish Ballet Company were “embarrassingly bad”.

In a note released under the 30 year rule, the advisor is briefing Jack Lynch on the Company’s funding requests for 1978.

Chairman of the company, James O’Donovan, had written to the Taoiseach because he was worried its level of funding would be reduced from the £114,000 received in 1977. In it, he mentions “steadily increasing” audience numbers with “standing room only” notices displayed in the Abbey Theatre.

He also tells Lynch that his best male dancer and ballerina have been “swiped” by other companies and that they should not replace them with second- or third-rate dancers.

If they did, the standard of the company “is bound to fall with disastrous results to the reputation and attendances”, he said, before requesting a meeting with him and Finance Minister George Colley.

“Having reached the high standard that the Company has unquestionably attained, it would indeed be a disaster if, at this stage, it was allowed to fold up for the sake of a few extra thousand pounds.”


To help inform the Taoiseach’s reply, the department official gave his own opinion of the work of the company. It wasn’t as glowing as O’Donovans. He wrote:

At this point, I might set down my own (inexpert) view of the standard of the Company. In their first venture to Dublin, at the Gaiety Theatre, four years ago, they were embarrassingly bad.


They relied heavily on classical ballet – Giselle, Swan Lake, etc. – and this showed up the shakiness of the dancers especially in the supporting company. They were also doing pieces which would have been seen in films and on television by the Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Ballet and others in definitive performances.
Their folk ballet based on O’Riada music was colourful and attractive but was fairly elementary and was little more than a form of Siamsa Tire.

However, his words did get kinder. He admits they have improved in recent years with “elaborately choreographed and beautifully executed” Irish ballet pieces.

He still has issue with their classical ballet – “they are still visibly unsteady” and “probably well short of acceptable international standards” – but believes for £100,000, the State has got good value and a “fairly reputable ballet company”.

He warns that touring abroad should not be part of their regular programme for the above reasons and that they should consider ceasing to use taped music which is “very off-putting”.

“At the Abbey 1977 show, the reproduction equipment was not up to scratch! The ideal would be performances with the RTE Symphony Orchestra or even Light Orchestra but this is some way off yet”.

RTÉ Archives has a recording of the Company’s first ever performance in Cork’s Opera House on 29 January 1974 so you can decide for yourself.

Of the 14 dancers, six were Irish while the rest came from the UK, America, Sweden and Mexico.

In 1983, the Company was renamed the Irish National Ballet but the recession of the 1980s brought its own woes and it was disbanded in 1989 when the Arts Council ceased its funding altogether.

More: Leinster House got a lick of paint when Ronald Reagan came to visit

Read: Back in 1984 the Government was worried about banning smoking in classrooms

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