With the death of Katherine Lewis at the age of 57, Irish dance has lost one of its most formidable advocates.
As artistic director of Irish National Youth Ballet from 2006, Lewis greatly raised the standards, profile and confidence of the sector. Her honed attention to detail and discipline was matched by a commitment to encouraging established and emerging choreographers and composers and championing live music accompaniment. The result was a transformative incubator for new talent.
Born in the north Dublin suburb of Cabra, the daughter of a solicitors’ office manager father, her first lessons, aged eight, were with the doyenne of Irish ballet teachers, Myrtle Lambkin. Aged 16, she became the first Irish student to secure a place at the Royal Ballet School, aided by the first bursary awarded to a dancer by the Arts Council of Ireland.
In 1978, she was the first Irish dancer to study under Marika Besobrasova at the Académie de Danse Classique in Monte Carlo as the school’s inaugural Princess Grace Scholar. The following year, she joined Irish National Ballet to become one of its most distinctive soloists and principals during its last decade, notably as Widow Quin in Joan Denise Moriarty’s adaptation of JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, with music memorably provided by the Chieftains.
She was also seen in commercial theatre productions, including Richard Harris’ Stepping Out at the Everyman Theatre, Cork (1991), and several collaborations with the now-defunct Irish Operatic Repertory Company. For Dublin’s Gate Theatre, she choreographed Rosaleen and Fergus Linehan’s Mary Makebelieve in 1993.
In 2009, she was a leading figure in the formation of the Irish Ballet Forum and regularly taught at Dublin’s College of Dance, Dance Ireland, Cork City Ballet and Ballet Ireland.
Katherine Lewis was born on June 27, 1961, and died on April 15. She is survived by her mother and three brothers.