‘Driving force’ of youth ballet Katherine Lewis dies aged 57

Katherine Lewis: The artistic director of the Irish National Youth Ballet, originally from Cabra, Co Dublin, died unexpectedly while on holiday last week. A service is due to take place in Dublin this week to mark her passing.

The woman credited with being the driving force behind the Irish National Youth Ballet for the last 13 years has died unexpectedly, while on holidays in Lanzarote.

Katherine Lewis, 57, was holidaying with her close friend Alan Foley, artistic director of the Cork City Ballet, when the tragedy occurred.

Mr Foley said they had enjoyed a leisurely meal in a seafront restaurant, just hours before her death. Mr Foley had dropped her to the airport, for her return trip to Ireland, when she collapsed following a brain haemorrhage.

Ms Lewis’ family subsequently travelled to Lanzarote to be with her.

She passed away last Monday.

Mr Foley said Ms Lewis, or “Lewis”, as he affectionately called her, was a wonderful friend and had “a brilliant brain” in understanding dance.

“The choreographers that came to our company while Katherine was ballet mistress at the Cork City Ballet loved working with her, particularly if they were using a complex score. She had a brilliant brain.

“She was also a really wonderful, solid dancer. She would have described herself as a ‘working dancer’,” said Mr Foley.

Ms Lewis had a number of significant ‘firsts’ during her career: at age 16, she became the first Irish student to be awarded a place at Britain’s Royal Ballet School; subsequently, she was the first recipient of a dance bursary from the Arts Council.

She was also the first Princess Grace Scholar, which made her the first Irish dancer to attend the Academie de Danse Classique in Monte Carlo.

Katherine Lewis on the stage during her acclaimed career.

Ms Lewis, a native of Cabra, began her dance training with the late Myrtle Lambkin, in Dublin.

After she returned from her training abroad, she was hired, in 1979, by Joan Denise Moriarty, then director of the Irish National Ballet.

She worked with Joan Denise for 10 years, when the company was at the height of its fame, performing soloist and principal roles, among them that of the Widow Quinn in JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World.

Ms Lewis enjoyed a long and varied performing career, encompassing ballet, musical, theatre, radio, and television.

Dance Ireland chief executive Paul Johnson extended his sympathy to her family, friends, and colleagues “and all the dancers in the Irish National Youth Ballet. She will be sadly missed.”

Mr Foley said Ms Lewis had got him through a difficult period in his own life, 11 years ago, when he underwent a number of heart operations. The previous year, Ms Lewis had suffered a brain haemorrhage, but had recovered fully.

“We helped each other out in that period. In many respects, she was the only person I wanted to be around, because I knew that she got it,” said Mr Foley.

Ms Lewis was one of four people he had taken on a Baltic cruise for his 40th birthday, along with her long-time friend and fellow dancer Patricia Crosbie and dancer Janet Dillon.

Mr Foley said Ms Lewis made the most of life, and was generous even in death, donating her organs.

The Irish National Youth Ballet described Ms Lewis as “the driving force behind INYB for the past 13 years”.

She was an inspiration to many and her legacy will be the number of young dancers who have gone on to further raining and who have achieved great things over the last 13 years.

A service is due to take place in Dublin this week to mark Ms Lewis’ passing. Her remains have been returned to Ireland.

Mr Foley said next November’s production of Swan Lake, at Cork Opera House, will be dedicated to the memory of Ms Lewis, who previously worked at the Opera House.

Ms Lewis is survived by her mother, Bridie, and brothers Ian, Alan, and Michael.

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