Profile of Classical Ballerina Margot Fonteyn

Margot Fonteyn poses for a portrait
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Margot Fonteyn is regarded by many people as one of the greatest classical ballerinas of all time. Her entire ballet career was spent with the Royal Ballet. Fonteyn's ballet dancing was characterized by excellent technique, sensitivity to music, grace, and passion. Her most famous role was Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.

Early Life

Fonteyn was born in Reigate, Surrey on May 18, 1919. She was given the name Margaret Hookham at birth by her English father and Irish-Brazilian mother. Early in her career, Fonteyn changed her name to her stage name, Margot Fonteyn.

Fonteyn began ballet classes at the early age of four, along with her older brother. She moved to China when she was eight years old, where she studied ballet under Russian ballet teacher George Goncharov. She lived in China for six years. She returned to London at the age of 14 in order to pursue a career in ballet.

Ballet Training

At the age of 14, Fonteyn joined the Vic-Wells Ballet School, what is known as the Royal Ballet School today. She did very well and advanced quickly through the company. By the age of 20, Fonteyn had performed principal roles in Giselle, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty. She was also appointed as Prima Ballerina.

Dance Partners

Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann formed a dance partnership and successfully toured together for several years. Fonteyn also danced with Michael Somes during the 1950s.

Considered by many to be Fonteyn's greatest dance partner, Rudolf Nureyev joined her when she was close to retirement. Nureyev and Fonteyn's first appearance on stage together was during a successful performance of Giselle. During the curtain calls, Nureyev reportedly dropped to his knees and kissed Fonteyn's hand. Their on-and-off stage partnership lasted until she finally retired in 1979. The couple is known for inspiring repeated curtain calls and tosses of bouquets.

Rudolf Nureyev

Fonteyn and Nureyev were extremely close as partners even though they were very different. The two had different backgrounds and personalities. They also had an almost 20-year difference in age. Despite their many differences, however, Fonteyn and Nureyev were close, loyal friends.

Fonteyn and Nureyev were the first couple to dance Marguerite and Armand, as no other couple danced the number until the 21st century. The couple also debuted Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. The two also appeared together in a film adaptation of Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Les Sylphides and the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux.

The couple remained close friends through Fonteyn's retirement and health struggles with cancer. Speaking for a documentary about Fonteyn, Nureyev said that they danced with "one body, one soul." He said that Fonteyn was "all he had, only her."

Personal Relationships

Fonteyn developed a relationship with composer Constant Lambert during the late 1930s. Fonteyn married Dr. Roberto Arias in 1955. Arias was a Panamanian diplomat to London. During a coup against the Panamanian government, Fonteyn was reportedly arrested for her involvement. In 1964, Arias was shot, making him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. After she retired, Fonteyn lived in Panama to be close to her husband and his children.

Final Years

Because of her husband's large medical bills, Fonteyn did not enter retirement until 1979, when she was 60 years old. After the death of her husband, the Royal Ballet held a special fundraising gala for her benefit. She was diagnosed with cancer soon after that eventually took her life. Fonteyn died on February 21, 1991, in a hospital in Panama City, Panama.