We are sad to announce that Joan Harris passed away 28th August 2020. We celebrated her 100 year birthday in March 2020, and are sad to know she will no longer be with us.
Joan Harris, born 26th March 1920 in London, had her first performance in 1935 at Saddler’s Wells and followed her dance career in England until 1947, including at Sadler’s Wells. Until 1956, Harris assisted and danced in several film productions such as The red shoes and Invitation to dance. She has also worked in and with several films where she danced and assisted, including Gene Kelly as his assistant. From 1954 she was employed at the Bayrische Staatsoper in Munich, as a dancer and ballet master and later as head of the ballet company.
Joan Harris has been very important for dance in Norway. She was director of ballet company at the Norwegian Opera (now the National Ballet) from 1961-65. It was in the cards already when she came to Norway in 1961 that she was going to establish a school. She established and also became head of the Opera Ballet School from 1965 to 1987. Here, RAD was introduced as a ballet system that Joan knew from before. She also felt that it was important for the development of the company that they had a school where they could recruit high quality new dancers with the same background and style. So that the company could grow to a level like other national ballet companies. It would also increase the interest in dance among young people and get them, especially boys to consider dance as a profession. It was also important for Joan that they were in the same building, for relationship and inspiration and that they could now use the same teachers. Joan also expressed that in every school and educational context it is important that students can document the knowledge through a diploma, based on an accredited exam. In Oslo, they should have an exam at the end of each school year. The RAD system was already used in many countries and they had Margot Fonteyn as the leader. Dame Adeline Genée was one of the founders of Royal Academy of Dancing in 1920, with a Scandinavian connection since she was born in Denmark. She led RAD for 34 years before Margot took over.
Joan Harris ran the Opera ballet school between 1968 and 1979. It was a thought that Norway needed a standardized system throughout the country. Gerd Kjølaas had established a positive interest in the RAD system as early as 1957, but it was mostly in Oslo. So it was important to get many young promising teachers trained so as to open their own schools where they came from. In the first year, there were several applicants from, among others, Bergen, Stavanger, Narvik and Trondheim, so that was the beginning of the teaching training where the RAD syllabus was used. In 1969 one could already say that education and school were a success as several dances were included in the company and two had graduated with Higly comenneded.
From 1979-88 she was employed by the Balletthøyskolen (now the Oslo Academy of the Arts).
In 1970 she became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Dancing. She is a 1st class knight of the Royal Norwegian Merit Order and has received the Dancing Information Norway honorary award.
In the book Norway’s opera and ballet history, Fredrik Rütter writes, among other things, about her impressive efforts as ballet director at the Norwegian Opera: “Joan Harris took her starting point in the” old “, but at the same time invested heavily in creating a corps de ballet with a common identity “This was absolutely necessary for the further development of the ballet. She taught the morning classes for most of the year. She led the tests, took care of the daily administration, and worked purposefully to expand the ensemble.”
In 2017 came the book about her life: JOAN HARRIS – the life of a dancer written by Monique Skavlan Sunderland