British prima ballerina, director, teacher, and co-founder of the London Festival Ballet. She was made a DBE in 1963.
Born in London, Markova studied with Astafyeva, Cecchetti, Legat, and Celli before making her debut with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at the age of fourteen. Her first major success with the company came in George Balanchine's Le Rossignol (1926), and when the Ballets Russes was disbanded on the death of Diaghilev in 1929 she joined the Vic-Wells Ballet and became its first prima ballerina (1933–35). She subsequently danced leading roles in Frederick Ashton's La Péri, Foyer de Danse, Les Masques, and Mephisto Valse, Antony Tudor's Lysistrata, and Ninette de Valois's Bar aux Folies-Bergère and also appeared in the Camargo Society's performances. With the Vic-Wells Ballet she became the first English dancer to take the lead in Giselle and the full-length Swan Lake, as well as creating roles in Les Rendez-vous (1933), The Haunted Ballroom (1934), and The Rake's Progress (1935).
In 1935 Markova formed the Markova–Dolin Company with Anton Dolin (1904–83) and appeared as its prima ballerina. She went on to dance with the René Blum–Léonide Massine Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1938–41), with whom she made a successful US debut in Giselle (1938), and with the American Ballet Theatre (1941–44; 1945–46), with whom she created the role of Juliet in Antony Tudor's Romeo and Juliet (1943). Over the next twenty years she made guest appearances with many companies and won great acclaim for her dancing in such works as Les Sylphides, Pas de Quatre, and The Nutcracker.
In 1950 Markova became a co-founder of the London Festival Ballet with Dolin and later, on retiring from the stage in 1963, became successively a director of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet (1963–69), professor of ballet at the University of Cincinnati's Conservatory of Music (1969–74), and finally a teacher at the Royal Ballet School. She became president of the London Festival Ballet (later the English National Ballet) in 1986. She is the author of Giselle and I (1960) and Markova Remembers (1986).