Lois Ellyn, ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher and founder and artistic director of the New Chamber Ballet in Fullerton, Calif., Died on Saturday, August 28, 2021, just weeks after directing the production of the ballet. A little night dance, at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
Ellyn was born Lois Margaret Ellen Smith on June 19, 1924, to Edith Baldwin Smith and Thomas KM Smith, in Anaheim, California. Lois Ellyn’s father was a supervisor for Pacific Lighting & Standards Co., and her mother, Edith Baldwin Smith, was from the Hawaii Baldwin family. Lois had an older brother, Thomas, born in 1922.
Ellyn’s passion for ballet began at age 11, when she saw the Ballets Russes play in Los Angeles. “It did,” she said in an interview with Tthe Orange County Register in 2014. “It was so glamorous … the whole experience.” Her first classes were at Ms. Martin’s (from the Richard-Martin studio in Anaheim), where, in Ellyn’s words, she “danced on a carpet in a living room.” When she was a teenager, Ellyn’s parents drove her long miles to Los Angeles to Rozelle Frey’s studio. She also studied with Carmelita Maracci and at the Lichine Ballet School.
After graduating from high school, Ellyn turned down a scholarship to the University of Southern California for classical piano in order to pursue a career in ballet. His first opportunity came with the Grand Ballet of the Marquis de Cuevas in 1945, touring the United States and South America. She then joined Mia Slavenska’s Ballet Variante in 1947. She joined forces with Joey Harris, with whom she would later form a ballet company.
Slavenska and Frédéric Franklin then formed the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet, on tour as Stars of the Russian Ballet, with principal dancer Alexandra Danilova as guest artist. Ellyn joined them on tour, receiving critical acclaim for her role as Stella in a ballet adaptation of A tram named Désir, choreographed by Valérie Bettis.
Reflecting on this ballet a few weeks before she passed away, she said the deciding factor in her getting the lead was the way she threw Stanley’s jacket on during the audition. “All these years of tense and working on my technique, and what got me the part was my acting,” she recalls with a chuckle.
“My dear, you were lovely,” recalls Ellyn as Tennessee Williams told her when he walked into her dressing room on opening night.
During the 1948 season, Ellyn accepted an offer to join the brand new New York City Ballet under the direction of George Balanchine. When Balanchine called her to offer her a job saying, “I heard you were pretty good,” she said frankly, “Yes, I guess I am. She moved to New York and danced for NYCB for two years, where she also received instruction from Bronislava Nijinska as well as from renowned master teacher Vincenzo Celli of the Cecchetti Method.
Her teaching career began in 1956 when she opened her own studio in Anaheim, while her father built a permanent home for his dance school in Fullerton. The new Lois Ellyn studio featured a suspended wooden ballet floor measuring 60 feet by 40 feet, taller than many theater stages in Orange County at the time.
She continued to teach in her studio while dancing as a guest artist across California for numerous ballet companies, including the City Ballet of Los Angeles, the Pacific Ballet Theater, the Pacifica Ballet and the American Ballet Theater. . She was also a guest artist in residence for the Pasadena Playhouse.
Ellyn was a principal dancer for the Wenta Ballet Company and danced in almost all of Stefan Wenta’s original works with the Los Angeles Ballet and then the Wenta Ballet.
It was around the same time that she and her former dance partner, Joey Harris, formed the Ellyn-Harris Concert Ballet, which was followed by Joey Harris’ The Group in 1971. Along with dancing guest artist roles, Ellyn performed with the Lois Ellyn Ballet & Youth Ballet from 1972 to 1988.
In 1988 Ellyn founded her own company, the New Chamber Ballet, with her own Lois Ellyn ballet studio as an auxiliary school. She directed a full version of Balanchine from Nutcracker every year, and has amassed a repertoire of his own choreographic works, including Printemps des Appalaches, Picasso, The Tale of the Little Gray Horse and Colors. His latest new job, The tale of the mandarin ducks, premiered in 2017, choreographed to original music composed and conducted by Kimo Furumoto of the Rio Hondo Symphony Orchestra and California State University, Fullerton, Orchestra.
Hundreds of ballet students have passed through his studio and performed with him over the years, many of them pursuing professional careers in dance. His students remember his wit, his humorous stories of life on tour and on stages around the world, as well as his in-depth knowledge and careful teaching of classical ballet.
The New Chamber Ballet will continue under the direction of Sheree King, one of Ellyn’s students and dancers. The Lois Ellyn Dance Studio will continue to train young dancers in the traditions and technique of classical ballet.
The Nouveau Chamber Ballet will present a commemorative tribute production, Lois Ellyn — A Celebration of a Lifetime in ballet Tuesday, October 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton. Those wishing to support the company and the studio, and help honor the memory of Miss Lois Ellyn, can contact the studio for tickets at 714.526.3862, or visit the company’s website at newchamberballet.com to order tickets in online or to donate instead of attending.