Joan Denise Moriarty (1912? – 1992)

‘Joan Denise Moriarty – Ireland’s First Lady of Dance’
Edited by Ruth Fleischmann

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Joan Denise Moriarty was an Irish choreographer, ballet dancer, traditional Irish dancer, traditional Irish musician, teacher of ballet, founder of the Cork Ballet Company (1947-1993) and founder of professional ballet in Ireland.
Her first professional company, Irish Theatre Ballet (1959-1964), was a touring company bringing ballet all over the country, but its funding was insecure, and it had to close after five years. Her second professional company, the Irish Ballet Company, later re-named Irish National Ballet (1973-1989), was also a touring company bringing classical, Irish folk and contemporary ballets to the four provinces of Ireland. It was funded by the Arts Council.

During the recession of the 1980s, the Council first reduced and then stopped its grant; the company had to close in 1989. Moriarty continued to work with the Cork Ballet Company until shortly before her death. She created 115 original ballets for her companies, the best known of them, The Playboy of the Western World, was performed in Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Rennes, New York and in London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre to traditional Irish music performed live by The Chieftains. She worked for nearly 60 years to develop dance, a degree of service to her art without parallel in the short history of ballet in Ireland.