Britain's national ballet company. It grew from Ninette de Valois's Academy of Choregraphic (sic) Art, founded 1926, which performed occasional ballets for opera and drama productions at London's Old Vic Theatre. In 1931 de Valois moved her school into the newly re-opened Sadler's Wells Theatre and established a small company of dancers. This gave its first performance on 5 May 1931 (at the Old Vic) showing several short de Valois ballets including Les Petits Riens, Danse sacrée et profane, Hommage aux Belles Viennoise, and also Dolin's Spanish Dance. Dolin appeared as guest artist along with de Valois, Moreton, and others. The first performance at Sadler's Wells Theatre was on 15 May 1931 and by the autumn the Vic-Wells ballet, as it had become, was giving fortnightly performances. By 1935 the company was based solely at Sadler's Wells. Ashton joined in 1933 as choreographer and dancer (he created Regatta as guest choreographer in 1931) and the many works he created for the company over the next decades were—in combination with de Valois's ballets—to have a marked influence on the company's developing style, its classical purity, and expressive lyricism. Between 1932 and 1935 the company's ballerina was Markova with Helpmann joining in 1933. Fonteyn performed her first important role in Ashton's Rio Grande in 1935 and other important dancers during the pre-war years were May, Brae, Honer, Turner, Gore, Chappell, and Somes. De Valois was committed to establishing a strong classical base to the repertoire and the company staged its first classic production in 1932, with Act II of Swan Lake. In 1933 Lopokova was a guest star in Coppélia and in 1934 full-length versions of Swan Lake, Giselle, and Nutcracker were presented in stagings by Sergeyev. Among the company's most important new works were de Valois's The Rake's Progress (1935) and Checkmate (1937) and Ashton's Baiser de la fée (1935), Apparitions (1935), and Les Patineurs (1937). In 1937 the company performed in Paris, its first season abroad, and in 1939 danced its first production of The Sleeping Princess (later called Sleeping Beauty), the ballet which was to become its signature work. During the war it toured widely around the country, often acccompanied only by two pianos, as well as giving London seasons in the New Theatre and Prince's Theatre. During a 1940 visit to Holland it was almost trapped there by the German invasion. Though many of its male dancers were absent on war service it continued to stage some new ballets, such as Helpmann's Comus (1941), Hamlet (1942), and Miracle in the Gorbals (1944). From 1941 it became generally known as Sadler's Wells Ballet. After the war it took up residence at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, opening with a lavish new production of Sleeping Beauty on 20 Feb. 1946. This marked its coming-of-age as a world-class classical company. Internationally renowned choreographers like Massine, Balanchine, and Petit began staging works for the company, such as Le Tricorne (1947), Ballet Imperial (1950), and Ballabile (1950) respectively, and the company was greeted with huge acclaim when it first performed in New York in 1949. Ashton also entered the mature phase of his career, creating the luminous masterpiece Symphonic Variations in 1946, his first full-length ballet, Cinderella, in 1948, and possibly his most popular comedy ballet, La Fille mal gardée, in 1960. A new generation of dancers emerged including Grey, Shearer, Elvin, and Field and in 1946 the Sadler's Wells Opera Ballet was established to nurture young dancers and new choreographers.