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Dame Margot Fonteyn

(1919—1991) ballet dancer


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(orig. Peggy Hookham; b Reigate, 18 May 1919; d Panama City, 21 Feb. 1991)

British ballerina who became the most internationally famous dancer of her age. She studied with H. Bosustov in Ealing, with G. Goncharov in Shanghai, and with N. Legat and Astafieva in London before being accepted at Sadler's Wells School in 1934. In the same year she made her debut with the Vic-Wells Ballet as a Snowflake in The Nutcracker and after Markova's departure from the company in 1935 she began to dance ballerina roles, including Markova's role in Rio Grande and Odette in Swan Lake, as well as creating her first major role, the Fiancée in Ashton's Le Baiser de la fée. By 1939 she had danced Giselle and Aurora as well as becoming established as Ashton's muse, creating roles in Apparitions (1936), Les Patineurs (1937), and A Wedding Bouquet (1937). During the war she toured widely with the company and afterwards matured into the supreme exponent of the British ballet style. Although she was not a brilliant virtuoso, the exceptional beauty of her dancing was produced by a combination of qualities—great musicality, an apparently instinctive purity of line, lyrical expressiveness, and the rare intimacy which she established with audiences. She continued to create many new roles in, for example, Ashton's Symphonic Variations (1946), Scènes de Ballet (1948), Daphnis and Chloe (1951), and Ondine (1958) as well as Petit's Les Demoiselles de la nuit (1948). After the war she was international guest artist with various companies including Ballets de Paris (1948) and in 1959 she loosened her ties with the Royal Ballet to become a guest artist. In 1961 she danced with Nureyev for the first time in a charity gala and their ensuing partnership brought her a new artistic lease of life which lasted for a decade-and-a-half. His flamboyant Russian technique complemented her more English reserve to create the most famous partnership in ballet history. They appeared in the premiere of MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet (1965) and created the title roles in Ashton's Marguerite and Armand (1963). In 1979 she presented the television series The Magic of Dance and in the same year was awarded the title prima ballerina assoluta of the Royal Ballet, one among many distinctions which also included Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956, Order of the Finnish Lion in 1960, and several honorary doctorates. Many of her performances have been filmed for television. In 1955 she married Panamanian politician Roberto Arias who ten years later was paralysed by the bullets of a would-be assassin. Her autobiography Margot Fonteyn was published in London, 1975 and New York, 1976.

Subjects: Dance.


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