Margot Fontaine

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Biography of Margot Fonteyn British dancer, probably the best of all time. Its elegant lines and refined style made it the quintessential symbol of classical dance.

The artistic couple Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev delighted everyone for many years. They were the most famous dance couple in the history of classical ballet.

Margot Fonteyn developed her entire artistic career at the Royal Ballet in London; much of it as the absolute prima ballerina.

Childhood and family of Margot Fonteyn

Margot Fonteyn was born in Reigate, England, on May 18, 1919. Her first name was Margaret Hookham Fontes.

Her parents were an Irish engineer named Hookham and a Brazilian named Hilda and surname Fontes. (That’s where the stage name Fonteyn comes from.)

Reigate is a small town located a short distance south of the River Thames and London. Credit: Wikipedia

Margot Fonteyn was born a year before another wonderful dancer, the Cuban Alicia Alonso.

From a very young age, Margot Fonteyn began her classical dance studies in Hong Kong and Shanghai while her parents temporarily resided in China. Then she continued them in London.

In 1934, when she was just 14 years old, she made her debut dancing with the “Vic-Wells Ballet“, as one of the snowflakes from the Nutcracker ballet.

Margot Fonteyn’s triumphal beginnings as a dancer

Her skill, grace and elegance were so remarkable that by the time she turned 20, in 1939, she had already played leading roles in classical ballets:

Princess Aurora, in “Sleeping Beauty.”
The beautiful Giselle, in “Giselle” the famous classical ballet in two acts.
Odette, the white swan / Odile, the black swan from “Swan Lake”.
In 1940, the now famous dancer formed an artistic partnership with Robert Helpmann. For many years they had a deserved renown.

In 1935, the English choreographer Frederick Ashton (1904-1988), had joined Ninette de Valois, as a choreographer. He always had a wonderful relationship with Ninette’s musical director, Constant Lambert: the three rose to fame and turned the company into the Royal Ballet of London.

Frederick Ashton created several ballets especially for Margot Fonteyn; He considered her one of his muses and their artistic relationship lasted 25 years.

During the 1940s, Margot Fonteyn had a long relationship with the British composer Constant Lambert, whom she never married.

Constant Lambert (1905-1951) English composer, critic and conductor. Credit: Wikipedia

Constant Lambert’s most important achievement was to help found, together with Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton, the English classical ballet, to which he dedicated most of his life.

Constant Lambert shared life with two women: the very young dancer Margot Fonteyn and, at the end of his life, with the model and painter Isabel Delmer.

Margot Fontayn
The magnificent Margot Fonteyn played Chloe, in ballet by choreographer Frederick Ashton. Credit: Dance Works Online website

The Royal Ballet’s reputation as one of the world’s leading classical ballet companies is based on two prominent figures of 20th century dance, ballerina Margot Fonteyn and choreographer Frederick Ashton.

Margot Fonteyn’s career in the 1950s

In 1950, Margot Fonteyn had Michael Somes as her artistic partner. Both were the protagonists of the first ballet televised on British television: “Sleeping Beauty.

Margot Fonteyn’s career continued to rise and by the end of the 1950s she had played almost all the major roles in classical ballets.

Margot Fontayne
A beautiful image of Margot Fonteyn. Credit: web Author: Roger Wood

In 1956, at age 37, Margot Fonteyn married the Panamanian diplomat and playboy, Roberto Arias. Margot knew how to balance her artistic activity very well with fulfilling the roles of an ambassador’s wife.

Margot Fonteyn met Rudolf Nureyev in 1961

It was already the year 1961 when Margot Fonteyn, 43, the wife of a rich diplomat and who had reached the peak of her profession, intended to retire permanently from ballet.

However, in that year Rudolf Nureyev escaped from the USSR. Immediately, the choreographer Ninette de Valois invited him to dance in London as a partner with Margot Fonteyn, the great star of the “Royal Ballet of London“.

Nureyev’s passionate virtuosity proved to be the perfect complement to Fonteyn’s maturity and elegance. Margot Fonteyn’s career was rejuvenated and Rudolf Nureyev’s vitality was consolidated.

Margot Fontayne
The image of Margot Fonteyn will always be linked to that of Rudolf Neroyev. Credit: blog

That was the beginning of several years of the most beautiful performances by a dance couple in the history of classical ballet. The audience vibrated with excitement and enthusiasm as they watched them.

Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev danced together for 18 years; in 1967 they made their unforgettable landing at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

The passion that the wonderful performances of the couple formed by Fonteyn and Nureyev aroused in the audience was great. During a performance in Vienna they were called 89 times to the stage to greet the audience in the room.

Margot Fonteyn retires from the stage

Margot Fonteyn’s husband, Roberto Arias, was a man of difficult character, but he did not impede the career of his elegant wife.

Roberto Arias resigned as Panamanian ambassador to Great Britain to organize a revolution in Panama. He had the lack of wisdom to involve Margot Fonteyn in the purchase and smuggling of weapons.

Margot Fonteyn had to endure the bad drink of a time in jail. Roberto Arias, fled to Miami. But in 1964, he suffered an attack that left him quadriplegic and almost speechless.

Margot, who was going to get divorced, decided to remain by her side, and gave her absolute dedication until Roberto Arias died in 1989.

After the death of her husband, Margot Fonteyn settled permanently on a farm they had bought in Panama to raise cattle.

When Margot fell ill with cancer, Nureyev took over her treatments to the end.

Margot Fonteyn died in Panama, in 1991, at the age of 71 due to the consequences of cancer.

Awards and honours

  • In 1954, Margot Fonteyn was named president of the Royal Academy of Dance.
  • The Queen Mother of England appointed her Lady Commander of the British Empire in 1956.
  • In 1996, five years after her death, she was one of 5 women selected on merit to appear on British stamps.
  • Between 1981 and 1990, she was Chancellor of the University of Durham.
  • Reigate, her hometown, erected a statue in her memory.

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