Margot Fonteyn Biography

Dianne Brooks
ClassicalCouple

The Margot Fonteyn biography centers on her great life as a Prima Ballerina with the Royal Ballet in London. Margot Fonteyn was one of the greatest and probably most famous ballerinas of the mid-20th century, partly due to her legendary parternship with Rudolf Nureyev

Margot Fonteyn's Early Life

Margot Fonteyn was born in Reigate, Surrey, England on May 18, 1919. Margaret Hookham's father was an English engineer while her mother was the part Irish daughter of a Brazilian businessman named Fontes, the name she later changed to Fonteyn for the stage. Her mother started her in ballet as a child. Later Fonteyn trained with great teachers such as Olga Preobrajenskaya and Mathilde Kschessinskaya both of whom had been stars of the Russian Imperial Mariinsky Ballet.

Sadler Wells

Margot joined Sadler Wells Ballet, which later became the Royal Ballet, in 1934. She rose quickly through the ranks and became a principal dancer and was the star of the company by 1939. Fonteyn was especially known for her lyricism, grace and beauty. She inspired choreographer Frederick Ashton, at the time, to create many famous roles particularly for her including Undine, Daphis and Chloe and Sylvia. She also made her mark in all of the classics.

If she had a signature role, it may have been her interpretation of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty where her performance of the famous Rose Adagio brought audiences to their feet. That particular solo was so identified with Fonteyn that the music from it was used as the introduction to the BBC's six part series The Magic of Dance which she hosted in 1979.

Margot Fonteyn Biography and Nureyev

Fonteyn was 40 and contemplating retirement in 1962 when she was first paired with recent Russian defector Rudolph Nureyev in a now legendary performance of Giselle. As the curtain dropped, there was an initial lull that broke out into thunderous applause. The pair took a total of 23 curtain calls. At one point Fonteyn handed a rose from her bouquet (as is customary) and handed it to Nureyev. He impusively sank to one knee and covered her hand with kisses in response.

Initially an experiment, the casting turned into one of the most exciting dance duos to ever land in the ballet world. They danced to sell out crowds their chemistry of her cool poise and his fiery passion irrestible to audiences. Their most famous performances were of:

  • Le Corsaire Pas de Deux
  • Swan Lake
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • ''Marguerite and Armand' was choreographed exclusively for them by Frederick Ashton and was not danced by anyone else until recently.
  • Romeo and Juliet, the version choregraphed by Kenneth MacMillan, was originally intended for Lynn Seymour and "Christopher Gable'' but went to the famous pair.

There is some disagreement as to the full extent of Fonteyn and Nureyev's relationship. There is no doubt that they remained loyal and loving friends from the beginning until her death. Clearly they had a passion and chemistry that was expressed on stage. As for Nureyev he claims this relationship was more than platonic, but Fonteyn never confirmed this.

Marriage and Controversy

As is the case with so many great dancers, especially women, Fonteyn, lived to dance and her personal life remained backstage. That was until she met and fell in love with Dr. Roberto Arias a Panamian diplomat and notorious womanizer. Despites his infidelities and other troubles she remained loyal to him.

In 1959, Fonteyn was arrested and briefly jailed in Panama when Arias attempted to overthrow the Panamanian government. In 1965, Arias became a quadriplegic when a rival Panamanian politician shot him. The costs of Arias' medical care drained Fonteyn's finances and are one reasons she danced until she was 60.

Dame Fonteyn's Final Curtain Call

Margot Fonteyn was made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1956 at the age of 37. Her final dance performances were at the age of 60 even though she was plagued with arthritis.

Fonteyn had always loved her home in Panama and moved there after her retirement. She and Nureyev still talked regularly by phone, several times a week. He also helped pay many of her medical bills once she became ill with cancer shortly after her husband's death.

Dame Margot Fonteyn died on February 21, 1991 in her beloved Panama. She was one of the greatest and most enduring ballerinas of all time.

Margot Fonteyn Biography