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Celia Franca, at 85; dancer founded National Ballet of Canada, school

LOS ANGELES -- Celia Franca, who founded the National Ballet of Canada , died Monday at Ottawa Hospital. She was 85.

Ms. Franca, who was also a founder of Canada's National Ballet School, had been in declining health after a series of falls, but the exact cause of her death was not given, said Sally Szuster, the ballet's publicity manager.

Ms. Franca "inspired dancers by her example and her devotion to the art of ballet," Karen Kain, a leading dancer with the company under Ms. Franca and now its artistic director, said in a statement this week. In 1950, when Ms. Franca was 29, she traveled to Toronto from her home in London, invited by dance enthusiasts who were looking for someone to take charge of a project to form a ballet company.

She was known as a strong, dramatic dancer who had performed leading roles with Ballet Rambert and the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet) in London through the 1940s.

Less than a year after she moved to Toronto, the National Ballet of Canada made its debut in Eaton Auditorium, which was owned by the department store where Ms. Franca worked.

She had recruited and trained the dancers and helped raise the government and private funds to support the project.

She retired from the stage in 1959.

There are no known survivors.