This classical ballerina who danced her way through hearts of anyone who had a chance to see the Royal Ballet was born on May 18, 1919, and began her first classes in ballet at the age of four. Her mother registered both Margot and her brother for dance lessons. Her studies and professional experience would take Margot Fonteyn from Surrey, England to being so famous she was placed on a British stamp.
Here are ten facts you need to know about Margot Fonteyn.
1. Her favorite dance was pas de deux.
This simply means dancing with a partner, and this was something that Fonteyn loved immensely. In fact, it is said that she “was at her best” when performing “a pas de deux.” Some of the notable dance partners Fonteyn has danced with include Michael Somes and Robert Helpmann, both whom she partnered with regularly. Roland Petit was her partner in Les Demoiselles de la Nuit for Les Ballets de Paris in 1948.
When she revoked her plans for retirement and recharged her career instead, Fonteyn became familiar with Rudolf Nureyev, one of the 20th century’s most illustrious dancers of ballet. He was in his twenties and she in her forties, yet their chemistry on stage prompted one of the best ballet teams of all time. Ballets they performed together include Giselle, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet.
It is said that at one performance by Fonteyn and Nureyev garnered more than forty curtain calls and an ovation that lasted forty minutes.
2. Her debut performance was as a snowflake in The Nutcracker.
In 1934 a fifteen-year-old Fonteyn played a minor role in a classic ballet. Yet, a highly acclaimed ballerina at the time, Alicia Markova, left and Fonteyn found herself playing more substantial roles. Le Baiser de la Fee by Frederick Ashton was her first key role in 1935. The dance they created with the direction of choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton is said to have been “exceptional.”
Fonteyn has been quoted as saying her time working with Ashton was her favorite, no matter how hard she had to work to “master his creations.” Ashton saw her as a “muse.” A plethora of works were created by Ashton for Fonteyn including Horoscope, Dante Sonata, The Wanderer, A Wedding Bouquet, and Apparitions.
3. She was decorated by the British Empire
In 1951 she was given the title Commander of the Order of the British Empire and five years later was dubbed Dame of the Order of the British Empire. It was after this moment she was always referred to as Dame Margot Fonteyn. Yet, the accolades did not stop there.
Fonteyn was titled prima ballerina assoluta by the Royal Ballet in England. Only three women were given this title in the entirety of the 20th century. In 1981 Fonteyn became the chancellor of the University of Durham and maintained the title for the next nine years. She was picked as one of five women to be commemorated on a “Woman of Achievement” stamp in August of 1996.
There is also a statue of her in her birthplace, Riegate.
4. She was of Brazilian descent.
South American blood ran through the veins of this British dancer directly through her mother, who was half Brazilian and half Irish. Fonteyn’s grandfather, Antonio Fontes, was a notable businessperson from Brazil.
Her birth name was Margaret Evelyn Hookham yet, to maintain her exotic appeal, she took her mother’s maiden name, Fontes, and made it her stage moniker, Fonteyn.
Fonteyn’s father was an engineer and his family, the Hookhams, were lovers of music and literature.
5. She was loyal to the Royal Ballet.
The first time Fonteyn became associated with the Royal Ballet is when she became a student of the Vic-Wells Ballet School in 1933, which eventually became the Royal Ballet School we know today. It didn’t take long for her to star shine. Six years later Fonteyn was a principal dancer taking on lead parts in classics like The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and Swan Lake.
It was her interpretation of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty that she was especially praised. Ten years later, Fonteyn found her fame growing when she toured with the Royal Ballet through the United States.
Fonteyn has been described as “devoted” to this company when describing her career.
6. She was adaptable.
Some experts consider Fonteyn the most multitalented ballerina from Britain to emerge post World War II. Her exotic features were her calling card and set her apart from the other ballerinas of her day. Her grace when moving on the stage had a unique way of connecting with the viewers and anyone who saw Fonteyn dance would say they were mesmerized.
No matter how challenging the role was Fonteyn would master it and make it seem simple.
7. She didn’t marry until after thirty.
One doesn’t reach the heights of Margot Fonteyn without sacrifice and, in her case, the cost was a personal life. That was until she was thirty-six and married a man she had known for some time, Robert E. Arias, who was the son of the one-time president of Panama.
Her husband remained closely engaged with Panama and its politics and served as the ambassador of Panama in London. Aria was paralyzed when a political opponent shot him in 1964.
8. She was the subject of a documentary.
Fonteyn decided to spend the rest of her time, after retirement, in a ranch she obtained with her husband in Panama. She had grown close to his children from a previous marriage and enjoyed being close to her family.
This ranch that she loved was the set of a documentary that was filmed there to commemorate her 70th birthday. Unfortunately, the ranch was her final residence. Fonteyn was diagnosed with cancer just before she lost her husband in 1989. She would pass on in a Panama City hospital on February 21, 1991.
9. She wrote a book.
While she was still a full-time dancer, Fonteyn penned her autobiography in 1975, which led to her television show and novel The Magic of Dance, which is her ideology of the dance and its place in history. In it, she starts from the beginning of the art in the courts of the Italian Renaissance and follows the progression of ballet through her career.
10. She trained with masters.
When Fonteyn was eight her family moved to China so her father could take a job with a tobacco company. They lived in Shanghai and her mother scheduled for her to study under George Goncharov, a Russian teaching ballet in China.
Six years later Fonteyn’s mother relocated with her to London so she could further her training with Serafina Astafieva, another Russian dancer teaching abroad. When Fonteyn began attending Sadler’s Wells Ballet School she went further with her education and worked with Vera Volkova and Ninette de Valois.
There is no denying that the Margot Fonteyn’s impact on the world of ballet, especially in the Royal Ballet, is immeasurable, and she is well deserving of every award and honor she has received.
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