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Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias DBE

Margot Fonteyn in 1974
Born Margaret Hookham
18 May 1919(1919-05-18)
Reigate, Surrey, United Kingdom
Died 21 February 1991 (aged 71)
Panama City, Panama
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Panama
Nationality British
Occupation Ballerina
Employer Royal Ballet
Known for dancing
Title Prima ballerina assoluta
Spouse(s) Roberto Arias

Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, DBE (18 May 1919 – 21 February 1991), was an English ballerina of the 20th Century, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of all time. She spent her entire career as a dancer with the Royal Ballet, eventually being appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the company by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Contents

Early life

Fonteyn was born Margaret Hookham on 18 May 1919 in Reigate, Surrey, to an English father and an Irish mother of Brazilian ancestry, who was the daughter of Brazilian industrialist Antonio Fontes. Early in her career, Margaret transformed Fontes into Fonteyn (a surname her brother adopted as well) and Margaret into Margot; thus her stage name. Her mother signed her up for ballet classes with her brother when they were young.

In 1933, she joined the Vic-Wells Ballet School, the predecessor of today's Royal Ballet School. She trained under the direction of Ninette de Valois and teachers including Olga Preobrajenska and Mathilde Kschessinska and later transferred to the Vic-Wells Ballet. She rose quickly through the ranks of the company, and by 1939, had performed principal roles in Giselle, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty and was appointed Prima Ballerina.

Fonteyn was most noted in the ballets of Sir Frederick Ashton, including Ondine, Daphnis and Chloe, and Sylvia. She was especially renowned for her portrayal of Aurora in Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty. Televised versions of Sleeping Beauty and Ashton's version of Cinderella are now available on DVD. Fonteyn also worked with the choreographer Roland Petit and later in life, Martha Graham. In 1949, the Royal Ballet toured the United States and Fonteyn became an instant celebrity.

Dancing with Rudolf Nureyev and others

In the 1940s, she and Robert Helpmann formed a very successful dance partnership, and they toured together for several years. In the 1950s, she danced regularly with Michael Somes (they had first danced together in 1938, when they created Constant Lambert's Horoscope). But her greatest partnership emerged at a time when many (including the head of the Royal Ballet, Ninette de Valois) thought she was about to retire. In 1961, Rudolf Nureyev defected to the West, and on 21 February 1962 he and Fonteyn first appeared on stage together in a performance of Giselle. It was a great success; during the curtain calls Nureyev dropped to his knees and kissed Fonteyn's hand, cementing an on-and-offstage partnership which lasted until her 1979 retirement. Fonteyn and Nureyev became known for inspiring repeated frenzied curtain calls and bouquet tosses.

Ashton choreographed Marguerite and Armand for them, which no other couple danced until the 21st century. They debuted Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, although MacMillan had conceived the ballet for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable. Fonteyn and Nureyev appeared together in a film version of Swan Lake and Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, as well as Les Sylphides and the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux.

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in the Grand adage from Nureyev's staging of the Petipa/Minkus The Kingdom of the Shades for the Royal Ballet, London, 1963.

Despite their differences in background, temperament, and a nineteen-year difference in age, Nureyev and Fonteyn became close lifelong friends and were famously loyal to each other. Fonteyn would not approve an unflattering photograph of Nureyev. He said about her:

"At the end of Lac des Cygnes when she left the stage in her great white tutu I would have followed her to the end of the world."

The extent of their physical relationship remains unclear - Nureyev said that they had a physical relationship while Fonteyn denied it; her biographer agrees with Nureyev's version.[1] In 1967, they were arrested after a performance in San Francisco, when the police raided a Haight-Ashbury party to which they had been invited. They remained close even after she retired to a Panama cattle farm, talking on the phone several times a week even though her farmhouse did not have a telephone. When she was treated for cancer, Nureyev paid many of her medical bills and visited her often, despite his busy schedule as a performer and choreographer, as well as his own health problems (he was HIV positive and succumbed to AIDS in 1993). In a documentary about Fonteyn, Nureyev said that they danced with "one body, one soul" and that Margot was "all he had, only her." An observer said that "If most people are at level A, they were at level Z."

In the extremely competitive world of ballet, Fonteyn was renowned for her consummate professionalism and loyalty to her friends. Her dancing stood out for its lyricism, grace, and passion. Although Fonteyn was the Royal Ballet's biggest star, its director, Dame Ninette de Valois, cultivated other talents, so that the Royal Ballet of Fonteyn's day also included Nadia Nerina, Svetlana Beriosova, Lynn Seymour, and Antoinette Sibley.

Relationships

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Fonteyn had a long relationship with composer Constant Lambert which did not lead to marriage. Lambert symbolised some aspects of this relationship in his ballet Horoscope (1938). In 1955, Fonteyn married Dr. Roberto Arias, a Panamanian diplomat to London and playboy. Their marriage was initially a rocky one due to his infidelities. She was arrested when he attempted a coup against the Panamanian government. In 1964, a rival Panamanian politician shot Arias, leaving him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.

Fonteyn's career lasted until 1979, her sixtieth year, despite her suffering from an arthritic foot. Upon her retirement, the Royal Ballet honoured her with the title prima ballerina assoluta. She ended her days in Panama, remaining loyal to Arias in part because she was very devoted to his children from an earlier marriage. The Royal Ballet held a special "gala" in 1990 for her benefit. Shortly before his death, she was diagnosed with a cancer that proved fatal.

A dramatic image of her performing Swan Lake at the Bath Festival, Bath, United Kingdom, was captured by British photographer Des Gershon, taken secretly from the high gallery of the Theatre Royal, Bath, as she danced with the corps de ballet on the day she heard that there had been an attempt on the life of her husband. The stress, worry and pain is clearly shown in her face with the remarkable single frame of a moment in time.

Legacy

Margot Fonteyn in Ashton's Ondine, whose title role was created for her. This official postcard of her was autographed.

Fonteyn was awarded a DBE (made a dame) in 1956 at the age of 37.

She was chancellor of the University of Durham from 1981 to 1990. The main hall in Dunelm House, the Student Union building, is named the Fonteyn Ballroom in her honour.

Fonteyn died on 21 February 1991 in a hospital in Panama City, Panama.

Miscellany

Fonteyn provided the Introduction for Wushu! The Chinese Way To Family Health and Fitness [2] The book was translated for the Western market by Timothy Tung from a series of official handbooks published in China by The People's Sports Publishing House, Beijing.

Film and television

Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev starred together in a color film version of Swan Lake in 1967. under the guidance of the noted director Paul Czinner, they also filmed their famous version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet in 1966.

Previously, Fonteyn had appeared with Michael Somes in a live U.S. television color production of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty in 1955, for the anthology series Producers' Showcase, on NBC. This production has been preserved on black-and-white kinescope, and released on DVD. Later, on British television, Fonteyn starred again with Somes in a 1958 production of The Nutcracker (not to be confused with the live U.S. television production telecast by CBS on Playhouse 90).

A BBC film made in 2009, based on Daneman's biography and starring Anne-Marie Duff as Margot, aired on 30 November 2009.[3]

Main roles

Quotations

  • "The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous."
  • "Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike."
  • "Life offstage has sometimes been a wilderness of unpredictables in an unchoreographed world."
  • "Genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic is that it is inexplicable."

Cultural references

References

  1. ^ Meredith Daneman,Margot Fonteyn, Viking, 2004, ISBN 0-670-84370-9
  2. ^ Mitchell Beazley Publishers 1981. ISBN 0-85533-315-4.
  3. ^ John Preston (December 4th, 2009). "Margot, BBC Four, review". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/6729235/Margot-BBC-Four-review.html. 

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Malcolm MacDonald
Chancellor of the University of Durham
1981–1990
Succeeded by
Sir Peter Ustinov
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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.

Dame Margot Fonteyn (18 May 1919 - 21 February 1991) was a British ballet dancer, born Margaret Hookham, and nicknamed "Peggy".

Contents

Sourced

If I have learnt anything, it is that life forms no logical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
  • What a beautiful step! I shall never be able to do it.
    • As quoted in Encyclopedia of World Biography (1998) edited by Paula Kay Byers and Suzanne Michele Bourgoin, Vol. Hox-Kie‎, p. 504
  • Genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic is that it is inexplicable.
    • As quoted in Thoughts from Earth (2004) by James Randall Miller

Margot Fonteyn : Autobiography‎ (1975)

  • Minor things can become moments of great revelation when encountered for the very first time.
    • p. 9
  • Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike.
    • p. 81
  • I need to have a purpose in life and for that I might sacrifice some of the luxuries that I enjoy; fortunately I am fairly adaptable. I try to be aware, flexible and unbiased in my thinking. If I have learnt anything, it is that life forms no logical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
    • p. 272
    • Variant: Life forms illogical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
      • As quoted in Simpson's Contemporary Quotations‎ (1988) by James Beasley Simpson
  • Life offstage has sometimes been a wilderness of unpredictables in an unchoreographed world.
  • The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.
    • Paraphrased variants: The most important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative, and the second disastrous.
      Take your work seriously, but never yourself.

Unsourced

  • There is probably no life more enchanting than that of ballerinas. More than half their lives is spent in a world of imagination, unreal if you wish, but unlimited and totally absorbing. Into this world the difficulties and frustrations of ordinary life cannot enter. These must lurk outside the stage door until the music, the applause and the lights have faded and the exhilarated dancer comes back to earth.

Quotes about Fonteyn

  • How to put something so visual, so potent with theatrical moment that even film cannot capture it, into plain words? How to explain why it is that when, to a particular strain of music, an ordinary mortal steps forward on one leg, raises the other behind her and lifts her arms above her head, the angels hold their breath?

External links

Wikipedia
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