Books on the Arts: Meredith Daneman's Margot Fonteyn: A Life

Classic Arts News   Books on the Arts: Meredith Daneman's Margot Fonteyn: A Life
 
This fall, Viking Books published Meredith Daneman's biography of Margot Fonteyn, one of the 20th century's great female dancers.

Margot Fonteyn: A Life is the first complete biography of the dancer; Fonteyn herself wrote an autobiography, described by one reviewer as "guarded," in 1976.

Daneman uncovers the life behind Fonteyn's legendary stage presence: known for "soft, unshowy lyricism and limpid purity of line [that] have entered the poetic imagery of our age": as well as the more legendary aspects of her biography, including her affairs and her marriage to Robert (Tito) Arias, a Panamanian politician.

Fonteyn was born Margaret Evelyn Hookham, and known as "Peggy"; the name she gave herself is a version of "Fontes," her Irish-Brazilian mother's family name. Her ambitious mother, known in the dance world as the Black Queen, enrolled her at age 14 in Ninette de Valois' Sadler's Wells Ballet School; by the time she was 16, Fonteyn was dancing starring roles in the company that would later become the Royal Ballet.

Much of what is described as the "English style" of ballet, which blossomed after World War II, happened at the Royal Ballet, where Frederick Ashton was artistic director. Fonteyn was Ashton's muse: he created roles for her in ballets such as Sylvia, Rio Grande, and Ondine. Her debut in New York in 1949, in Sleeping Beauty, took the city by storm.

Her most famous relationship: intense and passionate in the performing sense, and possibly sexual as well: was with Rudolf Nureyev, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1961 and became Fonteyn's dance partner when she was in her early 40s and he was a good 20 years younger.

Fonteyn died in 1991, of cancer.

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