Biography of Margot Fonteyn
Dame Margot Fonteyn, DBE (18 May 1919 – 21 February 1991), stage name of Margaret Evelyn de Arias, was an English ballerina. She spent her entire career as a dancer with the Royal Ballet (formerly the Sadler's Wells Theater Company), eventually being appointed prima ballerina assoluta of the company by Queen Elizabeth II in 1979.
Beginning ballet lessons at the age of four, she studied in England and China, where her father was transferred for his work. Her training in Shanghai was with George Goncharov, contributing to her continuing interest in Russian ballet. Returning to London at the age of 14, she was invited to join the Vic-Wells Ballet School by Ninette de Valois and succeeded Alicia Markova as prima ballerina of the company in 1935 at age 16. The Vic-Wells choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton, wrote numerous parts for Fonteyn and her partner, Robert Helpmann, with whom she danced from the 1930s to the 1940s.
In 1946, the Vic-Wells company(now renamed the Sadler's Wells Ballet), moved into the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden where Fonteyn's most frequent partner throughout the next decade was Michael Somes. Her performance in Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty became a distinguishing role for both Fonteyn and the company, but she was also well known for the ballets created by Ashton, including Symphonic Variations, Cinderella, Daphnis and Chloe, Ondine and Sylvia.
In 1949, she led the company in a tour of the United States and became an international celebrity. Before and after the Second World War, Fonteyn performed in televised broadcasts of ballet performances in Britain.
In 1955, she married the Panamanian politician Roberto Arias and appeared in a live colour production of The Sleeping Beauty aired on NBC. Thanks to her international acclaim and many guest artist requests, the Royal Ballet allowed Fonteyn to become a freelance dancer in 1959.
In Margot Fonteyn's ballet career, she has been dancing with different partners, but her most long lasting partner is Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.
They were most noted for their classical performances in works such as Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, Les Sylphides, La Bayadère, Swan Lake, and Raymonda, in which Nureyev sometimes adapted choreographies specifically to showcase their talents.
Sir Frederick Ashton choreographed Marguerite and Armand for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev,which no other couple danced until the 21st century.
The 1963 premiere was well publicised before its 1963 opening and teamed them with Michael Somes, one of Margot Fonteyn's dancing partners. Composed as a series of pas de deux, interrupted by only one solo, the ballet built intensity from the initial coup de foudre to the death scene. According to Somes, the pairing of Nureyev and Fonteyn was brilliant, as they were not partners but two stars of equal talent who pushed each other to their best performances. The production was an immediate success, and Marguerite and Armand became a signature work for the duo, sealing their partnership.
In 1961, when Fonteyn was considering retirement, Rudolf Nureyev defected from the Kirov Ballet while dancing in Paris. Margot Fonteyn danced with him in his début with the Royal Ballet in Giselle on 21 February 1962. The duo immediately became an international sensation, each dancer pushing the other to their best performances.
"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."
In 1964, Margot Fonteyn's husband was shot during an assassination attempt and became a quadriplegic, requiring constant care for the remainder of his life. In 1972, Fonteyn went into semi-retirement, although she continued to dance periodically until the end of the decade.
In 1979, she was fêted by the Royal Ballet and officially pronounced the prima ballerina assoluta of the company.
Margot Fonteyn retired to Panama, where she spent her time writing books, raising cattle, and caring for her husband. She died from ovarian cancer exactly 29 years after her premiere with Nureyev in Giselle.